Dutch blogs are reporting today that the country’s three largest parties have all
formally asked parliament the government for an investigation into whether Google Earth presents a national security risk. If you read Dutch,
The last post in this list is wonderfully laconic, and basically regards the existence of this story as evidence of the summer doldrums. The Dutch cabinet, meanwhile, has said that such an investigation is unnecessary, as the information already is available elsewhere. In fact, there is an established Dutch website that specializes in high-resolution images of the Netherlands, http://www.vanuitdelucht.nl/.
One motivation for such calls is undoubtedly a notion that Google is being hypocritical when it willingly censors Area 51 and White House environs but is unwilling to grant other governments the same courtesy. This view misunderstands how the data is gathered, as James Fee pointed out in an earlier comment. Google Earth buys the data mostly off US remote sensing companies such as DigitalGlobe. It is these companies that are tightly regulated — read DigitalGlobe’s product release policy. For it to operate, it needs to abide by US government restrictions — namely, thou shalt white-out the White House. Foreign remote sensing operations obviously need not. US companies can buy foreign uncensored data if they wish. No doubt Google could, but if it did, this would result in even less censorship, not more. And why should it, anyway? Google Earth is a free product. People who must see the roof of the White House can call a French company. Area 51 overlays are over here.
There is a domestic American variant to this meme:
The defense here is the same: Governments, terrorists and anyone else with some cash can already get at this information. We might as well level the playing field, then, by making it available to all. Wouldn’t it be a trip if somebody on Google Earth Hacks found Osama Bin Laden?