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Clear Public Satellite Imagery Tantamount to Yelling Fire 230

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 Sparr0 ( 451780 ) <sparr0@gmail.com> on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:02PM (#27186181) Homepage Journal

    I go geohashing/geocaching using nearby buildings as a reference, with no GPS device. I put the lat/long into Google Maps, print the deepest zoom of the location, then triangulate my position based on building corners when I get there. I don't care that the building might be a church or a school, it's just a handy object with well defined corners.

  • So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:07PM (#27186245)
    So wait... Even though I can find blueprints of various government buildings on a website, can find listings of just about every church out there with directions on the web along with schools... The fact that I can get satellite images of them somehow means that it will be abused somehow? Why is it that in this country our government increasingly mandates to remove anything that might possibly be used for evil because its "new"? The fact that I can get blueprints of various important government buildings at the library of congress isn't an issue, but because I can look at them in Google Earth it is? The USA is becoming more and more like a dictatorship.
  • by Daswolfen ( 1277224 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:13PM (#27186321)

    Now I can see the need for using the obscuring technology to cover up places vital to national security like military bases and such. However, considering the level of detail available from Google earth is not enough to warrant the mass panic that Assemblyman Anderson seems to want to foster. It is not like you can see the details you can with the latest generation of spy sat. You don't get real time intel on things like deliveries and other information you would need for planning. You get no more than you would get driving down the street taking a few pictures.

    Heck, cell phone cameras present a greater security risk to this country than Google Earth, but I don't see any reason to ban them either. Nearly anything can be used for nefarious purposes if desired. So banning a research tool just because someone MIGHT use it to help plan something untoward is a reactionary stance and should be avoided at all cost.

  • Re:Big arrows (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:20PM (#27186445)

    This might have an opposite effect. Suppose they /did/ blur out all these sensitive structures. Isn't that kind of like waving a flag, pointing and saying "OMG, please blow up anywhere but here - oh no, please not RIGHT HERE."

    Instead of blurring out the images, they should just 'photoshop' them out. I believe this has already been done with some military airbases in europe - a while back someone posted before shots and links to current shots in google earth and you could see that these bases had been "erased" leaving generic terrain in their places (all except for one, which now had a "road to nowhere" still visible).

  • Blurring (Score:3, Interesting)

    by larien ( 5608 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:26PM (#27186517) Homepage Journal
    So, while in America, we should squint when walking past schools & government buildings so we don't know what they look like? Because surely only bad people would want to know what a school looked like...


  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LoadWB ( 592248 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:35PM (#27186651) Journal

    Ultimately, the only real WTF about this article is the belief that someone who really wants to kill you won't just drive to your house/school/church and use his eyes to make sure he's bombing/shooting/flying airplanes/melting/flooding the right place.

    Obviously you do not have a clue, otherwise you would be a politician. Sheesh.

    But seriously. I follow the same logic as you. But politician logic would follow your statement by "we should also put barriers around schools, churches, and government buildings, through which you may pass only after showing your RealID and subjecting yourself to DNA testing, Breathalizer, cavity search, and/or drug testing, and said barrier must be outside visual range."

    Even without eyes, any terrorist organization worth its pillar of salt would already have access to intelligence on such buildings. The Internet just makes it more convenient. There really is no stopping a dedicated terrorist, Evil Villain(tm), or common stalker.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:47PM (#27186825)

    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?

    There really aren't that many places mapped with Street View.

    I often use the satellite imagery so I can see how many lanes are on a particular road and which one I need to be in to make turns or whatever. Or so that I can get a visual look at a tricky intersection. Very useful when I know I will be navigating in lots of traffic. Also, as far as buildings go it's useful to see where the entrances and exits are so I know where to turn because those are not typically listed on maps. Very useful for finding places to park. I know you can do all of this on the fly but it's much more relaxing to know where I'm going ahead of time .

  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by The Grim Reefer2 ( 1195989 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:54PM (#27186941)

    Personally, I'm having a hard time getting really worked up about this one way or the other. Maybe it's because I lived without satellite images for approximately 33 of my 37 years on this Earth without much of a problem, and I don't think we'd be losing much to not have them again. This is not like GPS or the internet as a whole or something where there is real utility that would be lost if you switched it off.

    While I understand where you are coming from and agree to an extent. You can also apply that same line of thinking to all kinds of things, including GPS and the internet. My father lived for the first 60 of 65 years of his life w/o the internet and has lived his entire life w/o GPS. So if they just go away, I really don't think it'd bother him very much.

    On the other hand, I'm obviously against all this fear-mongering. I'm not so intentionally dense (as I do believe some people are) as to not see any way that a terrorist could use these images for their own purposes, but that doesn't mean I think it's a reason to blur anything or turn it off. It's just a tool, and like any tool it can be used for good or evil. It's not a weapon, it's not a drug, it's not something the government should have a role in regulating.

    It's more like, say, a pipe wrench. Sure, I could take a pipe wrench and whack somebody over the head with it and probably kill them. I could do it repeatedly and probably kill a lot of people.

    Or, I could use it to fix broken pipes.

    This is the thing with tools. They have a benign purpose and that's what most people use them for. But of course they *could* be used for evil. Are we going to just regulate everything that fits that description?

    If the government is going to outlaw Google's satellite images, then it seems to me they need to outlaw pipe wrenches too.

    This is where the problem lies, except you'll need to ban more than just wrenches. Books and education will need to go as well. Obviously you need a certain level of knowledge in order to build bombs and such, so to be on the safe side we better ban reading too. Of course judging by this thread: http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/03/13/1323243 [slashdot.org] We seem to be taking care of these issues ourselves already.

  • by mahohmei ( 540475 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:55PM (#27186953)

    On a recent geocaching trip, I compared the coordinates on my TomTom [primarily for driving] against my friend's Garmin, which was exclusively for hiking.

    At any given point, the two devices were off by, at most, 15 feet. There were a few geocaches we found online whose locations were impossible--for example, in the middle of a football stadium. The fact that our two GPSs only disagreed by about 15 feet meant that whoever planted the caches had the coordinates wrong. Or possibly Googled them. :-)

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

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Friday March 13, 2009 @06:15PM (#27187247)

    People often forget that we don't need to justify ourselves just because someone wants us to.

    I think what people forget is that we NEVER have to justify ourselves to the government either. Ever.

    This country has fallen so far from the ideals that caused its creation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    People forget what an awesome concept that is. Particularly the abolish part. It's concerning to me that we have offensive fascists like this in government that believe they should have control over information. That, the mere possibility of misusing that information is grounds for removing our rights to possess it.

    I am not fooled by their protestations that is in our best interests. The people that are so fervent to take away our rights always start with those platitudes. The solution to the problems we have is not to subvert the ideals that formed our country.

    it is up to those who would deny us those things to explain why we should not have them.

    Those people that would wish to deny us, can only petition their representatives to create laws. We, as a people, are supposed to vote on whether or not to enact those laws. That's democracy. What happens more often than not now, is that men like this create and enact such laws without the consent of the people.

  • by rcrodgers ( 1233228 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @06:55PM (#27187695) Homepage
    Has any body bothered to point out to the nice Californian Representative that blurring the picture would be pointless because it would give a potential terrorist points of interest? Publicly requesting these items to be blurred because they could be threatened and then looking at the map will do nothing but make it easier to find them.
  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PsychoSlashDot ( 207849 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @08:02PM (#27188491)

    Blurring satellite imagery to protect citizens from terrorists is tantamount to kicking voters in the face.

    We can play this game all day. As you say, it should be the government justifying any curtailing of civil liberties, not civilians justifying those liberties in the first place.

    But seriously, maybe we should ban career politicians because they keep implementing foreign policy that angers people enough to start killing civilians to make a point. Just a thought.

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

    by icebrain ( 944107 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @09:12PM (#27189119)

    Feinstein goes nowhere without a gun of her own. She carried illegally for several years till she got caught, then got herself a carry permit. Funny how she gets one, but the average person can't.

    She also violated every safety rule in the book when she swept a crowd with an "assault weapon", finger on the trigger.

  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13, 2009 @10:04PM (#27189483)

    Not only were the landed gentry the only voters, but they were also expected to provide a militia. That is, by all accounts, feudalism.

    Indeed. It is a fallacy to think that feudalism ever ended. VISA wants to put you in indentured servitude as much as any plantation owner ever did. Citigroup made a killing doing just that, until their bubble burst.

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

    by AmigaHeretic ( 991368 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @10:10PM (#27189505) Journal
    Well, I'm just a couple years younger than you, but I think satalite images are great. I have kids that play soccer and baseball and we're always going to different school to play games. I use google maps to get directions and then click the satalite view to get an idea of where their fields are located. Am I a bad person for doing this?
  • Re:the real WTF? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @03:11AM (#27190743)

    You're just making stuff up and then using 'the internet' as if the concept of top down mapping had been invented last week. What has actually existed for far longer than just your 37 years is the bog standard hard copy paper based map that looks down at streets in exactly the same way a satellite would see it from directly above. This is not useful to you? Colour me astounded. Overlay that satellite based imagery with street names and such, and you have your same old bog standard map all over again, just with a little more glitz instead of boring old coloured boxes to indicate schools, hospitals, shopping centres, car parks and blah blah. Being computer based can make the whole thing a whole load more convenient.

    While you may not see any intrinsic value in this newfangled top down view, quite a chunk of the remaining population have a little bit of a different opinion. This bozo suggesting we blur satellite images is nothing short of delusional. The information still exists, you go to your local newsagent and it's right there on the shelves. I've yet to see a road map that doesn't include schools and a myriad of other interesting things. With a satellite image you might get building positions, but so what, with a car you can just drive there and get even better positional information. Lets just shut the barn doors here while we watch the horses gallop over the horizon.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling