Onwards to Russia

Mosnews sometimes has stories of dubious quality, so it is by no means clear in this story whether their “source” speaks for the Russian Special Services, but he’s quoted as saying that with Google Earth “terrorists will see all that they need to carry out an attack in any part of the world.”

If the source is real, what scares me then is that the Russian Special Services are complaining due to ignorance of a fact that any intelligence service should know: These images have been readily available for ages. Either that, or they just hate openness. Or both.

2 thoughts on “Onwards to Russia”

  1. Just saying that “these images are available to anyone” is glossing over the fact purchasing high resolution imagery requires money, and there are people involved. It is a traceable transaction.

    In contrast, access to the imagery in Google Earth is effectively anonymous. There is a big difference.

    The same “it’s available to everyone” argument is misused in the privacy debate. Sure, I could go and pay a satellite imaging company several thousand dollars to get an image that shows my neighbourhood. But, I wouldn’t. If it’s freely available via Google Earth I’ll have a look.

    It all comes back to the cost of access to the data, and cost can be defined in many ways.

  2. You’re right in saying that the privacy debate and the security debate are different.

    Re the security debate: You can get these images from companies in any number of jurisidictions, and from resellers, some of whom take cash, and all have employees that are corruptible, and some of the clients might be less than scrupulous about observing terms of use. It’s a completely leaky sieve. There is no way you’d be able to find out who in the world purchased a satellite image of central London in the past two years, for example. There is just no point in trying.

    Furthermore, Google Earth’s images are not nearly the highest resolution images out there. My guess is that whatever satellite intelligence Al Qaeda gains (if they use any) comes from sympathetic military sources in Pakistani intelligence.

    Finally, the terrorists are also using PCs, the internet, and cell phones to ply their terrible trade. I argue that the slim potential for additional harm that could come from Google Earth is outweighed by the tangible benefits we are gaining now from, for example, our ability to use it to coordinate responses to Katrina. The same argument applies to cell phones and the internet.

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