I read this headline in the Wall Street Journal and said “well, duh, yeah.”
Pentagon Bans Google Earth from Mapping Military Bases.
The article explains that “A message sent to all Defense Department bases and installations around the country late last week told officials to not allow the popular mapping Web site from taking panoramic views inside the facilities.”
Michael Kucharek, spokesman for U.S. Northern Command, said: “the decision was made after crews were allowed access to at least one base. He said military officials were concerned that allowing the 360-degree, street-level video could provide sensitive information to potential adversaries and endanger base personnel.”
I can only be aghast at the poor judgment of military police who let any Google Map (or MSN Earth, etc etc) teams drive onto a military base and take detailed panoramic photographs of the facility and its exact layout.
In my opinion, it’s worrying enough that you can pick any random military base and find a nice aerial photograph of it. For example, here’s Andrews Air Force Base, quite close up:
Now this image unto itself isn’t necessarily going to help a terrorist plan an attack, but the level of detail is rather extraordinary and if you look for a larger military establishment like Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base it’s certainly foreseeable how good on-ground intel could aid a foreign national far more than a Marine who seeks to figure out where “building 1101” is actually located on base.
I think that the challenge of finding a balance between vigilance and openness is a tricky one, and the ever-wider availability of geo-data makes it a particularly tricky issue. But it’s not just limited to Google Maps and military establishments either: services like Yahoo’s new Fire Eagle make it easier for someone to track your location (assuming you sign up for the geolocation service, still in early beta). Is that a good thing?
How do we balance privacy, security, pragmatic vigilance, optimism and openness in the twenty-first century?