Google Earth gets a clear view of DC

Very interesting: As Google Earth Blog and others have pointed out, Washington DC gets newly updated imagery in time for the US presidential inauguration on Tuesday, and included in the update is a high resolution view of Observatory Hill, which until now was pixelated in Google Earth (though not in other mapping services such as


As conspiracy theorists everywhere know, Observatory Hill is also the location of the vice-presidential mansion, and thus the home of Dick Cheney, at least for another 24 hours. While it is a coincidence that the imagery is finally updated right as he’s leaving the place, no doubt this will further fuel suspicions that the censorship was his doing. Still, the clear view provides interesting symbolism for what many hope will be a return to transparency and accountability in US government:-)

A closer look at the metadata, however, shows that the Google geoteam had to do a bit of extra work to bring us the current seamless-looking results. All the imagery around the the Observatory Hill circle is uncredited aerial imagery taken on an unspecified morning in 2008, but the hill itself is credited by Google to a DigitalGlobe satellite image taken Feb 6, 2007.

Meanwhile, over at the White House, here too the uncredited aerial imagery gives way to a square of what I believe is satellite-resolution imagery, credited to Sanborn from 2002. That’s about as old as imagery gets on Google Earth, on par with pre-war imagery from Basra in Iraq, but at least it is in high resolution.

I suspect that the aerial imagery was indeed censored by US authorities before being released to the public (as is done by the Netherlands, among others), but that Google then pasted in uncensored satellite imagery (even if older and/or grainier) in those places where otherwise we’d have seen ugly pixels and then accusations of Google cowing to government censorship demands. Let’s hope this kind of creative workaround by Google gains currency on other censored spots on the planet as well.