Google Maps: National Security vs. the People’s Right to Know

Posted: November 25, 2009 in Its all geospatial!
Tags: , , , , , , ,

A hot topic I found on the GIS lounge blogs features a question of Google earth in relation to revealing too much information to terrorists or questionable peoples.  As I expressed in a comment on Caitlin Dempsey’s blog the blurring of federal buildings or potential terrorist targets (such as the white house) on mapping sites does not harm the right to know of the general public surfing Google earth/maps.  After all, it is merely an outdated photograph with low resolution.  First hand reconnaissance of the existing infrastructure would be needed anyway to carry out attacks.  By this point we should also acknowledge that our security and intelligence forces already know of any potential uses of online maps to terrorists.

Although these are low resolution images their is enough detail that can be deemed unneccesary for public view such as military bases or intelligence agencies. Take the comment of Evan stationed in Korea;

I heard the stories of terrorists using internet mapping sites and decided to take a look for myself. To much surprise, my very own duty station was clearly visible with everything highlited and labeled. Offices, living quarters, down to single standing ATM machines. With a VERY REAL THREAT, not much more than an hour away, imagine how costly that is to the lives of our soldiers and their families (some of them here with us).

This issue will not go away but will only intensify as Google expands its data collection and imagery.  Do we really need to see federal buildings and military bases from an omnipresent aerial perspective at the expense of national security?  Even with the white house blurred I am confident it will remain at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C.  If I doubt it I will check for myself next time I’m in town.

How much spatial information is too much?  A related issue lies with Google’s street view feature with issues of anonymity.

Update: On this issue of privacy is an issue affecting thousands of people. The almighty facebook and the latest privacy update from Mark Zuckerberg.


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