The father of India’s missile program, Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, on Saturday delivered a speech in which he called Google Earth a security risk, on the grounds that it gives terrorists easy access to the kind of information they need to conduct attacks. The president, a figurehead without policymaking powers akin to Germany’s and Israel’s presidents, came out with these quotes, among others (AP story, The Statesman, India, The Hindu Business Line, The Times of India)
You will realise that some of the developing countries, already facing terrorist attacks, have been singularly chosen for sourcing such high-resolution images.
When you look deeper into it, you would realise that laws in some countries regarding spatial observations over their territories and UN recommendations about the display of spatial observations are inadequate.
His conspiracy theory in the first quote is easily dismissable. Developing countries are proportionally underrepresented on Google Earth, not overrepresented, when it comes to high-resolution imagery. See for yourself. Recent updates are not “biased” towards the developing world either. I wish they were, in fact, as some of the world’s most amazing sights are not to be found in European and American suburbs. And among developing countries, Iraq has the most coverage, due to the war there.
Furthermore, making national laws against what satellites in Earth orbit can and cannot see is like legislating against a tidal wave. And suggesting that the UN take on the role of global censor betrays a complete lack of understanding about the purpose of that body. Fundamentally, governments do not need to be protected from their citizens; citizens’ rights need to be protected from governments and overzealous, unwitting civil servants like Kalam. Google Earth helps by making that process irreversible. Complaining government officials are a sign of progress.