Some of the comments on the story, Google Earth used by terrorists in India attacks, by IDG News Service reporter John Ribeiro, express sarcasm over the report and no wonder. We are now expected to take for granted the power of Google and Microsoft to photograph every square inch of the planet in exacting detail and then geocode it to photos, blogs and other sources of information. The Web 2.0 attitude about it can be summed up this way: Of course terrorists are going to use our satellite photos get over it.
But this intelligence gathering is completely out of control. Its an intelligence collection effort on a massive scale and this information will be used by our enemies against us.
The story about how Google Earth was used in the India attacks wont be the last story to report on how terrorists used satellite images to plan an attack. But should Google and Microsoft be allowed to post any image?
Let me start here: Why should Google and Microsoft be allowed to post detailed satellite images of the interior of U.S. military bases?
When I was in the U.S. Navy, in a distant part of my life, I was stationed on Guam. This past weekend I was looking at my old military base using Google maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth. Every aspect of this military base was revealed in incredible detail much better detail than the U.S. used to make its case that the Russians were arming Cuba with missiles. (Photo above). I could easily make out my old barracks, paths I used to get to get around, even fences, access points, sheds -- everything.
I enjoyed the trip down memory lane via images from these sites, but I was troubled by it as well.
What public good is served by taking interior photographs of military bases and putting them online? None that I can see.
[Photo -- Google Maps, random view of Guam base]
Nations already have the ability to take these photographs, but must we also make this information readily available to stateless terrorists groups?
There needs to be clear limits. Google and Microsoft and every other commercial provider should be barred from photographing and displaying military bases. Geocoding red zones need to be created around military installations, and probably nuclear power plants, refineries, and other potential sites of mass destruction.
We are building intelligence capability for our enemies. The least we can do for the men and women who serve on military bases is to cloak the interior of these bases. Microsoft and Google don't have to explain this practice because they can count on the legions of Web 2.0 defenders to do it for them.
This isn't a new issue. It goes way back. In World War II, citizens were urged to be responsible with troop movement information. Today we make it amazingly simple to plot out a military base and are now building online libraries that link ground photos to satellite images. Our little Web 2.0 feel good, networked world is blinding us to some really important and obvious life and death questions.