Google's Earth, Not Yours

I was going to do a Friday Flybys post today, but I got distracted flying around myself, on Google Earth. Wicked fun. By now everyone has heard the objections raised by various governments around our great googled planet to all this addictive, mischief-inspiring, free-for-all openness. What illustrates the ol' transparency vs. security quandary better than Google Earth's swooping software? Governments are convinced Google Earth threatens democracy, and that the high-res sat images Google uses, which, of course, are all legally and commercially available, not in real time and up to three years old, compromise their national security.

As to those complaining governments, Prof. Ray Williamson of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute told the
Christian Science Monitor, "From a legal standpoint, they haven't got a leg to stand on. There's no law on the books about this, so the government's not likely to limit the availability of these images."

Of course, we do have the 1986 UN
Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space, in particular, Art. IV, which states remote sensing activities "shall not be conducted in a manner detrimental to the legitimate rights and interests of the sensed State." (The principles may be a good statement of customary international law even if not binding like treaty law.)

Prof. Ram Jakhu of McGill University's Institute of Air and Space Law, opines (also in the above-linked csmonitor.com article) that as a UN member state, "The US is under obligation to make sure these images are not being distributed in a manner other countries consider harmful," and notes, it's "in the interest of all countries for these complaints to be addressed."

For its part, Google says, "We take security issues very seriously and are willing to talk with representatives from individual countries." (And...?)

Meanwhile, Google on, everyone.

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