Google Earth is one of the most exciting developments in computer applications since the advent of the word processor thirty years ago. Google Earth enables us to explore every corner of the world; to plan our real time voyages; research geographical phenomena; compare different cities. The list is almost endless.
Almost endless, because there are certain sensitive things that governments do not want us to see. Try taking a look at Guantanamo Bay, for example, and you will see that when you attempt to take Google Earth down to a low zoom level over this U.S. “facility”, you are met with a polite message informing you that satellite images of this particular location are not available at this zoom level.
The Indian government complained that its nuclear facilities were visible on Google, but the Indian government clearly does not have the same political clout as the White House and it was left to the Indian authorities to do their own spot of “airbrushing”.
The perceived “danger” in Google Earth is that if it allows the general public to view various military installations, nuclear plants and other vulnerable places then by default it allows the potential terrorist or other criminal the same advantage. Why is it only a “perceived” danger? Let us take our research further by a very simple step.
Open Google’s home page, and select “Google Images”. Then type in “Guantanamo Bay”. Laid before you is a plethora of images which, put together, will give you a far better idea of what the place looks like than Google Earth will allow.
The search term “India nuclear facility” provides a similar surprise. Have some fun trying your own search terms. You will be surprised at the amount of detail which is publicly available in this way.
Is Google Earth intrinsically safe, or is it a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands? Google Earth was not available during the Second World War. This did not stop the Luftwaffe from finding and bombing military targets, ammunition factories and heavily populated civilian areas of Great Britain. Nor did it stop British forces destroying the city of Dresden or American forces dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima.
In those days we used maps and intelligence. We understood more fully the technology we were using and maybe – just maybe – we weren’t afflicted with the political paranoia which has become so commonplace in the twenty-first century.