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Do aerial photographs endanger national security?

(… or ENHANCE it?) :-)

Well, it looks as though a subject that I wrote about in early March 2009 FINALLY reached the attention of local TV. Online CNN, however, REPEATED the story theme, making me wonder if it is REALLY news or merely agitation for a “point of view.”

The initial story was about:

“A California lawmaker, Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R, San Diego area), last month introduced the bill AB-255 that would “censor” some aspects of Google Earth, “blurring” the amount of detail that users could see with online mapping tools. The bill also provides for fines of up to $250,000/day. Anderson said that images from Google Maps were used in the attacks in Mumbai, India, and that the goal of the bill is to prevent terrorism. You can read the copyrighted story on the CNN website.”

The latest story is about:

Joel Anderson (R, San Diego) a member of the California Assembly who has “expansive goals” of prohibiting “virtual globe” services from presenting unblurred photographs of schools, churches, and government or medical facilities in California…. His bill would also prohibit those services from providing street-level views of those buildings. According to the later CNN article, Anderson said that he doesn’t want to limit technology, but added, “There’s got to be some common sense.” :-)

Some more evidence for “common sense” not being as common as it used to be…. :-)

(Note added June 20, 2009: I thought about Mr. Anderson’s suggestions [more than suggesions – LEGISLATION!] and realized that blurring of street-level images of churches MIGHT [conceivably – this IS California!] be extended to require the blurring of things like my street-level images of  this beautiful church in Sausalito, this one in San Rafael, this one in Santa Cruz, and my street level views of the California Missions that function as churches. Sorry, Mr. Anderson, they are going to have to drag me off in ‘cuffs. :-) And we will see if another stupid California law holds up in court….)

(Note added June 23, 2009: Another thought – will we all have to blur or take down all of those wedding photos that are online and show “street-level views” of the fronts of churches? :-) After all, the Internet itself is a “virtual globe service” that can be used to find photos of such things.)

In addition to government offices, churches, schools and hospitals, what about: doctor’s offices? dentist’s offices? veternarian’s offices? day-care centers? babysitter’s homes? the homes of CA Legislators? DMV offices (Note added June 19, 2009: DMV recently tried to sneak biometrics into CA drivers licenses)? post offices? AAA offices where you can get passport photos? The list goes on and on…. :-)

A piano tuner (and nuclear watchdog :-) ) from Pennsylvania, Scott Portzline wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking for voluntary compliance from satellite and aerial imagery companies to blur images of nuclear plants. Since the closest nuclear plant to Mr. Portzline is Three Mile Island, I can understand that he might be worried about terrorism, having seen what the nuclear power industry can do all by ITSELF! :-)

The operators of Three Mile Island themselves are not concerned about the imagery, according to CNN.

Well, my earlier blog entry expressed the opinion that the aerial photographs of potential terrorist targets, with access to these online images being easily trackable [traceable?] (and probably 😉 tracked/traced), serve as EXCELLENThoneypots” online. Since terrorist access (as well as our own) to these images is most probably 😉 already tracked, potential targets of interest can be identified, as can the location of interested parties. I questioned whether the efforts of the California Assemblyman were misguided, and asked people who are “in the know” about things like national security honeypots to contact him.

Such clear images may serve as the best DEFENSE against terrorism, since access to the images can be tracked much better than, for example, access to printed maps. Besides, who says that the online images of such things as nuclear power stations are ACCURATE? Perhaps DISINFORMATION is introduced into such images as well, to confuse terrorists and thwart their plans!

Having worked in places with biometric security, video and audio surveillance, and RFID tags in my employee ID badge (Note added June 14, 2009: …and that was just how they treated “trusted employees” that they had thoroughly investigated before hiring! :-) ), I know that there are folks out there who would probably “be happier” :-) and “feel safer” :-) if ALL of us were locked up in cells with 24-hour surveillance and cable TV. :-) However, that is not what the Fourth Amendment (in the United States) provides.

(Note added June 14, 2009: Just kidding about the “be happier” part… many of the folks above will NEVER be happy – they delight in being miserable! :-) )

IF :-) clear, undistorted aerial and street-level images DO actually provide an important defense against terrorism (unbeknownst to some folks), they certainly also provide incredible benefits to the world. Such photographic services should be allowed to continue, unblurred.

Perhaps it is merely the thinking of the detractors that is blurred….

(Note added June 24, 2009: Maybe the California legislation could just die quietly “in committee” or something. Maybe allies of the U.S. who are working with the U.S. in fighting terrorism could resist blurring/deletion of images in their own countries in return for “intelligence,” unless they already ARE [funny how that “community” upgrades the word “data” to “intelligence”]. As I said before, I have no “insider” knowledge and do not know.)

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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