So we already know Belgium’s military is pissed at Google Earth for the ease with which it makes detailed aerial imagery of Belgium available. (Here is the original article by the Belga news agency that was the source of the television news broadcast blogged yesterday.) The question is, what can they do about it?
According to Belgeoblog, they’re getting support from at least some politicians and business interests. One Belgian senator on the intelligence oversight committee has promised a report on the matter by the end of September, and she wants to draw up a list of sensitive sites, much as the Netherlands has. One security industry representative says that companies which own nuclear power plants are especially unhappy about the images:
They do everything to keep such sensitive information secret and suddenly it’s made public, without an opportunity for them to defend themselves.
That quote either betrays massive ignorance or willful subterfuge — such imagery has long been public, and if they’ve been operating their plants under the mistaken assumption that nobody ever flies overhead, then perhaps there should be an oversight committee report on that.
But, again, what could Belgian legislators do? One possible scenario (if this doesn’t fizzle out) is a new censorship law that will compel aerial imaging companies operating in Belgium to submit freshly gathered data for censorship against a list of sensitive sites (again, like in the Netherlands). If so, let’s hope Google purchases imagery of Belgium before such a law come into effect — and we’d have a textbook case of legislators closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. Another option: Google could in the future choose to purchase satellite imagery instead — no country has jurisdiction in space.
But considering the cavalier attitude of Belgian courts regarding what you can and cannot do on the Belgian internet when linking to news if you’re Google, it’s not entirely inconceivable that they might try to get Google to censor imagery that is already being served via Google Earth, retroactively as it were, threatening various legal repercussions if Google does not comply. Although no country has taken such a step, not India, not China, not Russia, how ironic would it be if Belgium were to try?