August 17, 2007

U.S. Spy Satellites vs. Google Earth (I Spy with My Big Eye)

Greetings. When it comes to privacy concerns, it's best not to waste your breath worrying about issues that don't really matter much in the scheme of things -- there are too many really important concerns that can go sliding blithely by if you're not careful.

When people raised a big stink about Google Maps Street View, I suggested that it didn't represent a problem in its current form with infrequently updated images. In fact, we have far more to worry about from the proliferation of law enforcement accessible cameras being deployed widely with little or no real oversight and massive capabilities for abuse.

A similar scenario is now playing out in the area of satellite surveillance, where it was just announced that the Bush administration -- apparently with the blessing of key Congressional committees who by all rights should know better -- plans to begin using real-time surveillance satellites for law enforcement purposes inside the U.S. (e.g. domestic spying).

These satellites, designed with immensely powerful capabilities for international surveillance purposes, will now not only be used by the federal government for whatever domestic purposes it sees fit, but the plan also includes making them available to all levels of law enforcement throughout the country.

Of course, we're being promised that access to this treasure-trove of superlative quality imagery and other data will be properly controlled.

Right, just like the way that use of National Security Letters was properly controlled ("Sorry, the dog ate our files, we can't even tell you how much NSL abuse actually went on!"). Or like the wholesale vacuuming of Internet data via secret wiretapping closets ("Your honor, you must dismiss the case, because it has no merit, we'd never admit to such a thing, and if we told you what really went on it would violate national security and upset the tradecraft boys no end!")

In other words, any time that we grant the government extraordinary surveillance capabilities, oversight and trust are key. We do not have sufficient oversight in place, and this administration has squandered any trust that they might have originally had.

In this light, concerns about Google Earth's static imagery fade mightily on the concern-o-meter compared with the concept of NSA and CIA birds pointing their focal lengths in our direction under control of the current merry gang inside the beltway.

Google has its faults, but in match-ups between Google and Attorney General ("I can't recall ...") Gonzales, you'll likely find me rooting for the Google Boys every time.

Watch the skies!


Posted by Lauren at August 17, 2007 12:46 PM | Permalink
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