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Clear Public Satellite Imagery Tantamount to Yelling Fire 230

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the daily-dose-of-unbridled-stupidity dept.
TechDirt pointed out a recent bit of foolishness as a followup to California Assemblyman Joel Anderson's push to force Google and other online mapping/satellite companies to blur out schools, churches, and government buildings. When pushed, apparently his justification was that leaving these buildings un-obscured is the same as shouting fire. "News.com ran an interview with Anderson, where he attempts to defend his proposed legislation as a matter of public safety. He claims that there is no good reason why anyone would need to clearly see these buildings online, and that it can only be used for bad purposes. [...] Apparently, Anderson is the final determiner of what good people do and what bad people do with online maps."
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Clear Public Satellite Imagery Tantamount to Yelling Fire

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  • by mls (97121) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:04PM (#27186201)

    As I said last time, this info is available freely from our own US Government.

    You can search and retrieve with Lat/Long a list of these "soft targets" using the US Governments own Geographic Names Information Services (GNIS) system.
    http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic/ [usgs.gov]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:26PM (#27186523)

    I work as a Geotechnical Engineering consultant. When I get a job to do, one of the first things I do to roughly assess the job site is look at google maps or live maps for satellite or aerial photos.

    By blurring images of any kind of soft target or government installation just because it of what it is he is simply going to make it harder for anybody to do his or her job, honest persons and terrorists alike. If I can't find a good image of a site to get an idea of what it is like, I'll have to make an extra trip out there to assess things initially, taking up more of my time and my client's money for the same end result. I'm sure that this would be the same for the "terrorists". Rather than deter attacks due to lack of information, this guy's forcing them to perform personal reconnaissance which will be 10x more useful than an aerial photo or satellite photo, and the result will likely be the same.

    It's not a question of a job getting done, it's a question of how convenient it is to plan a job (job loosely defined).

  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:39PM (#27186699) Journal
    Explain to him the error of his ways:

    DISTRICT OFFICE
    500 Fesler Street, Suite 201
    El Cajon, CA 92020
    (619) 441-2322, (619) 441-2327 fax

    CAPITOL OFFICE
    State Capitol
    Sacramento, CA 95814
    (916) 319-2077, (916) 319-2177 fax

    email him At His Feedback Page [ca.gov]

    He's dork from the exurbs of San Diego. So be firm but polite.

  • by sampson7 (536545) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:51PM (#27186887)
    I have some sympathy for the idiot proposing this legislation. Why does a people need clear satelite images of a school campus? How about a critical electric switchyard or natural gas facility? How about a large dam? How about a nuclear power plant?

    The safety of critical energy infrastructure, using an example I happen to be familiar with, is a real issue and there is no doubt in my mind that Google Earth would make it easier for a terrorist. Want to black out a city? Detroy a dam? The first thing that I would do would be to study the project via Googe Earth. Sure, some detailed information is publicly available or on the internet, but a lot of has at least a veneer of confidentiality and particularly after 9-11 has been removed from the internet. It's not a coincidence that large power plants (which includes dams, nukes, etc.) tend to be out in the middle of nowhere. It is not inconceivable that someone doing physical reconisance of such a facility would be spotted prior to carrying out an attack. With Google Earth, you can do much of your work with publicly available and non-traceable data sets.

    Do I support this legislation? No. I think on balance, the public's legitimate interests outweigh the fear-mongering. But do I think he has a valid point? Hmm... I think he might. I would challenge the geeks on /. to take on the substance of what his proposing. What are the legitimate uses of this technology when it comes to damns, power plants, switchyards, etc.? I look at them from time to time because they come up from as part of my job. It's cool to be able to "see" the power plant you're writing about. But does my interest in assuaging my curiosity outweigh the potential harm to the public if this information is mis-used? I'm not convinced it is.

    On a personal note, I hate it when an idiot is somehow proclaimed as a spokesperson for an entire cause. Both conservatives and liberals do it -- and it really should stop. This particular guys is at best non-articulate in the defense of his legislation, and at worst a blithering idiot. It's tempting to discount the ideas he advances because of his idiocy -- but I think we would do a better job protecting the First Amendment and privacy if we address the substance of his ideas... and then make fun of him.
  • by duk242 (1412949) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:51PM (#27186897) Homepage
    I work in a school, we sometimes use images from Google Maps to say "Here's what our school looks like from above" as well as occasionally showing kids how maps work. Not to mention if I'm going to other schools, I google map it to work out how to get there :) I don't know what this guy is thinking >.
  • by Anachragnome (1008495) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:53PM (#27186933)

    An excerpt from Wikipedia...

    "Soviet Maskirovka

    An example of huge-scale maskirovka in the Soviet Union was false maps, with distorted locations of settlements, road forks, river shapes, etc. Public transportation maps of cities, while showing correct interaction of traffic routes, were distorted in general appearance.[2] What is more striking is that distance indicators on highway road signs gave false numbers. All this was supposed to confuse a potential invader."

    The only problem was that it also created the exact same confusion amongst the residents of Soviet Russia. But then, that was probably an intended effect as well.

  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ephemeriis (315124) on Friday March 13, 2009 @06:19PM (#27187295)

    I do too, although arguably street view is a lot more useful for that. You're not going to be looking at where you're going from 200 miles up when you get there, so why do you need to see it from that angle if the purpose is to get an idea of what it will look like from the ground?

    I live in Upstate NY, and around here we don't get a street view of much.

    The satellite imagery is actually pretty helpful. A map just basically shows you a bunch of lines representing streets, it doesn't give you a feeling for what's in the area. The satellite imagery, however, will show you whether it's a residential or commercial area. And if you see a big building with lots of long, yellow vehicles in its parking lot you can guess that it's a school. Or you might see an interesting structure or grove of trees or something that makes a decent landmark.

  • by ccady (569355) on Friday March 13, 2009 @06:42PM (#27187569) Journal
    Well, a reporter already asked him what a bad person can do:

    I'm all for online mapping, but knowing where the air ducts are in an air shaft is not necessary for me to navigate in the city. Who wants to know that level of detail? Bad people do. ... With a [paper] map, you can't count the number of bricks in a building, or see the elevator shafts. With this level of detail [afforded by online maps] you can. I hear the argument that, "Yeah, I want to also ban cars because cars are used in robberies." Look, cars have other commercial uses. There are no other uses for knowing on a map where there are air shafts.

    Source: http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/03/11/google.earth.censor.california/index.html [cnn.com]

  • by 91degrees (207121) on Friday March 13, 2009 @07:18PM (#27187977) Journal
    Falsely shouting "FIRE" in a crowded theatre. It's an age old example of a limitation of free speech from a Supreme court absolutely desperate to find a limitation on free speech. The argument was hokum. If you yell fire, then you may be ignored, or there will be an orderly exit of patrons. If you cause harm, then those to whom harm was caused will, of course, be able to sue you for damages. I guess if you do so with the intent to cause harm, criminal charges should be brought but there never seems to be any indication that this is the idea, but that's about causing harm. Not about the speech.

    Even if we assume that it is so dangerous that we must apply prior restraint, this argument was initially used as justification to stop legitimate free speech. It was used as an argument against distributing flyers opposing American involvement in the First World War.
  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sylver Dragon (445237) on Friday March 13, 2009 @07:43PM (#27188299) Journal
    Don't let Joel Anderson find out about street view, he'll want that blurred out as well.

    I'm afraid he's already got that covered: (Directly from the bill text [ca.gov].)

    The bill would also prohibit that operator from providing street view photographs or imagery of those buildings and facilities.

    Once again the California State Legislature shows that stupidity has no bounds.
  • FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! (Score:5, Informative)

    by russotto (537200) on Friday March 13, 2009 @08:21PM (#27188683) Journal
    The original "fire in a crowded theater" case didn't concern a fictional proclaimed conflagration in a movie-house. It concerned people who were producing and distributing to potential draftees pamphlets asserting that the draft was a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution (which is is, but that's another issue). The stretch Oliver Wendell Holmes had to use to get from "fire in a crowded theatre" to "pamphleting against the draft" is no greater than the stretch this Assemblyman is attempting. So yes, it's ridiculous... but it's ridiculous with precedent.
  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:2, Informative)

    by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv,vadiv&neverbox,com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @08:28PM (#27188733) Homepage

    Exactly. Before they even had street view, I'd use overhead view as a pseudo-street view, and still do for places without it.

    Change your view to close to the ground, angled in the right direction, and you can learn what turns actually look like in advance, which is very useful when you've never been there before.

    In fact, there's even a feature in Google Earth that does that automatically, on a fly-by, although I don't use it because usually just want to know one or two turns, and I want them to stay up until I grasp them.

  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:00PM (#27189013)

    Not to mention that I regularly use satellite imagery to augment maps when I am going somewhere

    Yeah, I work maintenance for Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, and I use google maps at work specifically to look at the layout of schools. We have over a thousand individual sites. When I dispatch someone to a school for a repair job, I frequently need to know which entrance to send him to, where the parking lots are, and where the specific buildings are. This Joel Anderson fucktard can stick it up his ass. The schools I work for need that clear overhead picture.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:15PM (#27189135)

    Why does a people need clear satelite images of a school campus?

    I work for a large school district and use those images to accurately and effectively dispatch maintenance personnel to effect repairs. We have paper blueprints, but our district has over a thousand sites. Google maps has been a great boon to us. This Anderson jackass would have us throw away a valuable tool we currently use to prevent it's use by imaginary terrorists.

  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:20PM (#27189165)
    Believe it or not there is life outside of California

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