Intelligence: Why Terrorists Love Google

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April 15, 2006: India is joining South Korea, and a number of other countries, to pressure Google to "do something" about it's "Google Earth" service. The security organizations in these countries are alarmed at the ease with which Google Earth enables any user to quickly get a satellite photo of just about any area on the planet. This capability is nothing new, it's been available from commercial photo satellite firms for over a decade. But what has changed with the Google offering, is that the company gathers together the largest collection of satellite photos ever, and makes them very easy to get at, by anyone with Internet access. This is what worries counter-terrorism officials. Islamic terrorists are long on fanaticism, but short on practical skills. Anything that makes it easier for an Islamic terrorist to plan attacks, the more likely that attacks will be put together and carried out. In addition, South Korea fears that poverty stricken, but heavily armed, North Korea, could use Google Earth to more effectively plan military operations against them. Many countries have managed to persuade the satellite photo providers to lower the resolution of images showing sensitive areas. But this is a tedious process, and many security officials would like Google Earth to just go away. But it won't, it's too popular among the many users who are not terrorists, spies or common criminals.

All this is another example of how change, seemingly for the better, often has a downside. Google Earth is very useful to a lot of people. By making all this satellite photography easily available to anyone, you also make it available to those who are up to no good. The same can be said for the telegraph (invented 160 years ago), the telephone (130 years ago), radio (100 years ago), and personal computers (30 years ago.) You've got to take the good with the bad. Google Earth, and similar services, are not going away because they make security, intelligence and counter-terrorism officials nervous.

 


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