Belgeoblog digs up a long passage about Google Earth in the 2005 annual report of the Belgian intelligence oversight committee.
Most of it was written in late 2005 by specialists at the request of the committee. Google Earth was still new then, and the report (aimed at technoclueless politicians) spends a lot of time explaining what Google is and how Google Earth works, often in a rather confused fashion. But here’s part of the conclusion, translated from Dutch:
The technology behind Google Maps and Earth is not new and not unique (for example, Keyhole). [Sic. The author is apparently unaware Google bought Keyhole.] […] What is new is the name recognition of the company, the breadth of the material and the high level of detail of some of the photos. […]
Anyone who wishes to acquire a satellite image of a spot on Earth can do so via a number of commercial providers. These providers are primarily American, European and Asian. This has been possible for many years, without limitations, and it is possible to acquire quite recent photos of good quality at high prices. Google Earth offers but a restricted set of archival photos from a large American provider (Digital Globe). [I don’t think it was ever the case that only Digital Globe images constituted the high resolution dataset of Google Earth.]
Google Earth only offers images that are not entirely precise geographically, and which are not rich in information of the kind that can be found in images that are purchased directly from a provider. [True, if “not entirely precise” means tens of meters.]
Being in the possession of a satellite image is one thing. Analysing it to obtain specific information is a different field altogether, requiring much training and expertise, and also intelligence obtained from different channels.
In sum, we are of the opinion that the publication of satellite imagery to Google Earth is a wonderful commercial operation that will give some people the incentive to purchase photos from the provider (Digital Globe), that will widen access to a specific kind of information that has existed for years, and that will popularize many potential applications for satellite imagery. None of this is new to those who in the past have tried to acquire this kind of information. A piece of intelligence is something else than a pretty digital photo.
This does not mean that our service does not worry about the fact that such photos circulate on the internet, especially on the pay version of Google Earth ($400 per year) which offers “recent” images that are a few hours old.
That concluding paragraph is just bizarre — Google Earth Pro offers the exact same dataset as the free version, and Google has yet to add images that are just a few hours old. The closest we’ve come was the Katrina and Pakistan quake imagery, available to all, which was a few days old.
Meanwhile, the quantity and quality of the imagery available of Belgium in Google Earth has improved, which prompted calls for yet another study by the same committee in September of this year, with the results due two months ago. Nothing more has been heard publicly from the committee since.