Stop the presses: Terrorists use Google Earth

Well, it was inevitable that such a headline would eventually be written:

Terrorists used Google Earth to plan attacks

The attacks in question were the failed suicide car bombings of two oil facilities in Yemen on September 15, 2006, as this Wikipedia entry documents. The Yemen Observer article linked to above reports that the investigation into the incident found the attack to have been planned with the help of imagery available via Google Earth, citing an unnamed source.

There is no reason to doubt this news — after all, Google’s delivery of publicly available high resolution satellite imagery via Maps and Earth is second to none, and it is this technical innovation that has led to its widespread use in many fields of endeavor, including by those who want to do harm to oil facilities.

The rest of the Yemen Observer article, unfortunately, is rife with tendentious reporting and inaccuracies. For example:

The only way to protect the system from being used for terrorist purposes is to make an agreement with Google to make a specific country or place invisible, as Israel did during its war against Lebanon.

No such thing happened. How does one even begin to make something like that up? I’ve had this confirmed to me on numerous occasions by Google, so here goes again: Google is free to buy imagery from any satellite or aerial imagery provider it wants to, and does not itself censor imagery. The provider companies themselves may however be bound by national laws that allow a state to censor imagery before it is released to the public. For example, aerial imaging in Dutch airspace is subject to Dutch censorship laws, while satellite imagery of the Netherlands taken by an American satellite company is not — because sovereign jurisdiction does not extend into space (something to be truly grateful for). Google is free to choose between these providers.

With regards to Israel, there is an unfortunate US law that prohibits US satellite imaging companies from selling imagery of Israel at a higher resolution that non-US satellite imaging companies. In practice, this means there is no publicly available satellite imagery of Israel at resolutions above 2 meters per pixel. This law has nothing to do with Google. In fact, imagery of the war in Lebanon was released to the public domain, and placed on Google Earth by Ogle Earth.

What else?

Husam al-Sharjabi, an IT engineer, agreed with al-Aghbari, saying that this [Google Earth] service is considered a breach against the sovereignty of nations.

Luckily, Husam is not an international law expert, as he happens to be flat-out wrong.

Finally, Yemen Observer is silent as to whether other tools used by the suicide car bombers — namely, cars — constitute a grave threat to the security of the country.

3 thoughts on “Stop the presses: Terrorists use Google Earth”

  1. Everyone uses Google Earth.. Doesnt matter.. you can easily get a up to date map of everything without using Google Earth..

    Everyone should be happy with Google Earth.. :), not complain with this crap..

  2. Reports said they were eating pizza too. Pizzas are a national security breach against the sovereignty of nations. Ban Pizzas Now !!!

  3. Googles’ data should be creative enough so as to have the nations’ security in place. Any Geographical data for that matter.

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