GeoCarta Has Moved

Dec 20, 2005

Google Earth: Complaints and Restrictions

The New York Times summarizes the fears and restrictions on the popular satellite mapping service Google Earth in a story today.

Worldwide Complaints
Among the nations that have expressed security concerns about the service:
  • India- One of the world's nuclear powers, it shares a sometimes tense border with Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons of its own. India has been one of the most vocal critics of the service, saying it could compromise their security. The nation has tight legal restrictions on satellite images and photogrammetry.
  • South Korea - Officially still at war with its communist neighbor to the north, officials there have voiced fears about the level of detail Google Earth's imagery provides of military installations.
  • Thailand - Security officials said they intended to ask Google to block images of vulnerable government buildings.
  • Russia - Having been attacked by Muslim terrorists themselves, the country is uneasy with the service. The Times quotes Lt. Gen. Leonid Sazhin, an analyst for the Federal Security Service,as saying about Google Earth, "Terrorists don't need to reconnoiter their target. Now an American company is working for them."

Misplaced Anger
Overlooked in the rancorous comments is one simple fact. The images in Google Earth were already available commercially. Google's sin, if one could call it that, is in compiling the imagery and making it more readily available over the internet.

Current Restrictions
American companies have been selling high-resolution images since the 1990's, when the U.S. government loosened restrictions. However, there are still a number of restrictions on the data:

  • Images of Israel shot by American-licensed commercial satellites is only available at a relatively low resolution.
  • The United States government can put any area off limits in the interests of national security.
  • Very high-resolution images can only be released after a 24-hour waiting period.
Nosy Neighbors
However, even the United States may find that it is fighting a losing battle in trying to control detailed satellite imagery. Recently, Nigeria, China and Brazil, have all launched satellites.

The internet has been touted as turning the world into a, "global village." It appears that with the proliferation of satellite technology, it won't be long before everyone will know just what their neighbors are up to.