Current Event: California Politician Wants All Satellite Imagery of Schools, Churches, and Government Buildings to Be ‘Blurred’

By vincez at 8:47 pm on March 13, 2009 | 2 Comments

A politician in California, Assemblyman Joel Anderson, has just proposed legislation to be drafted that would require Google’s map application to blur satellite imagery of all schools, churches, and government buildings. The Assemblyman’s proposal would require not just Google, but all satellite-based imaging software to blur these locations under the law.

Assemblyman Anderson sat down for an interview with to defend his position. In the interview, he argued that there is no good reason anyone would need to clearly see these buildings online, and that the only reasons a person could have for wanting to view these buildings must therefore be malicious. The politician was quoted:

“Who wants to know that level of detail? Bad people do.”

I believe the reason this event arose is because of the growing usefulness and popularity of online mapping tools. The use of the software is free, and it is turning into a necessity for many people when gathering directions to a new location. Having a beforehand image of the destination makes finding it a much easier task. Also, satellite imagery is still a novel technology that is simply fun for users to search. Mr. Anderson recognizes this popularity and sees a vulnerability in allowing the general public access it.

The issue could have been avoided if Google and other mapping utilities had policies on what they would show or requested permission before using imagery of private property. This leads into the broader debate of the ethical nature of these types of services. The satellite-map services already have policies to filer out any obscene content that may be visible, but there is still an open question regarding the rights property owners have to protect themselves from having their imagery published online. Extending from this, Assemblyman Anderson raises the more general question of whether or not particular entities should ever have their imagery publicized, regardless of their position on the matter.

Reactions are sure to be mixed about this event. While there will undoubtedly be some who support the politician, many will challenge his notion that there is no reason to look at satellite imagery of a school, church, or government building that is not malicious. Adding fuel to this is the talk of the constitutionality of requiring the images to be blurred. Assemblyman Anderson likened the situation to the legality of yelling fire. While free speech is protected, there are important circumstances where it is not. He argues that requiring these images to be blurred falls under the same category. This is certain to charge debates, as the constitution can often be a very polarizing document. Regardless, this issue is one that will have to be debated for the time to come, as the power struggle between privacy and the prevalence of information continues on.

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    Comment by jap24

    March 13, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

    If Google had to get permission from each property owner before showing any of his property online, then they wouldn’t have anything on Google Earth except for the ocean and wilderness. While those can be very pretty, having views of those unpopulated or inaccessible areas is not particularly useful. Besides that, you don’t need to be getting permission from property owners to show images of their property in other cases; imagine if you took a picture of the city skyline and you wanted to post it online, but first you had to track down the owners of all the buildings in the picture and ask for their permission first. It’s not remotely practical, and it limits the usefulness of applications like Google Earth too severely.

    The idea that only “bad people” would want to use Google Earth’s high detail images is ridiculous. (Unless all of Google Earth’s users are bad people? Maybe Assemblyman Anderson should call for their arrest just to be safe.) In addition to simply being viewed for pleasure, the images can also be used as maps.

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    Comment by Evil Rocks

    March 14, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

    In other words, it’s okay for your local government to collect and store as much data on citizens as their exponentially expanding storage media can hold but lord forfend that private citizens have ANY ANY ANY data EVER about government activities, buildings or said data collection programs.

    Autocracies -> Representational Autocracies -> Observational Autocracies

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