back to article Google Earth faces terrorist target airbrush bill

Concerned that international terrorists are prepping their attacks with help from services like Google Earth, Microsoft Virtual Earth, and Google Street View, a California lawmaker hopes to airbrush certain structural details from countless public buildings pictured on these web-based virtual landscapes. San Diego-based …


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  1. Andy
    Paris Hilton

    I have a lot of sympathy for this approach

    Satellite imagery must be a fantastic resource for criminals of all kinds. Sure, the big guys can get their data from elsewhere – but it does seem like maybe it's making things too easy.

    On the other hand, where would you stop? Schools, churches, government buildings... For that matter, should private property be shown in such detail, making it easier for burglars to plan their entrance and escape route? There wouldn't be much left to show, and that would be a great shame; it's so useful.

    Paris – because I'd like to know how to get into her private property, if you know what I mean...

  2. Jared Vanderbilt
    Paris Hilton

    Assemblyman = idiot

    Stupid politician. Al-Qaeda doesn't use internet imagery to plan attacks. They put the cell leaders on the site where they plan and do walk throughs. This happened in Saudi Arabia and the embassy bombings.

    Leave the security planning to the experts. Doesn't California have an economic crisis you could be working on?

    Paris: She knows all about internet imagery.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    the ravings of a lunatic

    So you drive around with a GPS and get the latitude and longitude of whatever you are looking for; make a minor adjustment; and VOILA! You know have the exact location of that building, park, idiot; that you need for whatever nefarious activity you wish.

    Not that they don't have a budget problem that they need to waste time with this type of nonsense; but the fines being talked about may just convince Google to move out of state and take all their employees with more payroll tax, no more property tax, no more.....

    yes, even paris knows better.

  4. norp

    Security through obscurity

    Removing this information from the public does NOT remove it from the hands of those who seek to do harm.

    These photos are available from the companies that took them, i'm sure you could claim you are doing something legitimate and purchase copies of the original aerial/satellite photos from the company that took them.

    This is much like saying "we won't tell you our encryption algorithm because you might use it to break into our data"

  5. Jeremy
    Paris Hilton


    That is all. That and being compared with <~~ her over there.

  6. martinX


    >>These photos are available from the companies that took them,

    That provides a trail. Maybe not a great one, but a trail nonetheless. Even if it is after the fact.

  7. Paul

    No reason?

    "There's no reason they need to show where all a school's air ducts are and the elevator shafts and all the entry and exit points..."

    A friend of mine is a teacher in California. As it happens he's on the "site council" in charge of making emergency response plans, including evacuation routes. As you can imagine, having aerial photos of the school came in handy for that. Three guesses where he got them.

  8. Eddy Ito

    Make you go hmm

    Where does this boring assembly-ape stand on the whole Boring street view spat?

  9. Charles Manning

    @Jared Vanderbilt

    It is very important to keep these political morons entertained by issue such as these.

    The Devil makes work for idle hands and all that. Imagine what damage dumb bastard politicians could cause if they got involved in anything important.

  10. Darling Petunia


    So much hot air and so few brains. Politicians only have to look good. They do not have to demonstrate intelligence.

  11. jake Silver badge

    San Diego-based Assemblyman Joel Anderson is an idiot.

    "San Diego-based Assemblyman Joel Anderson recently introduced a California bill that would bar "online mapping services" from serving up overly-revealing images of schools, hospitals, churches, and government buildings."

    What a fucking idiot. I can hop into my private aircraft with my Hasselblad, CF-39 & a long lens, and legally take all the high-res photos of anything I want (outside of military installations). From all angles, no less ... and I guarantee the resolution will be a hell of a lot more detailed than anything that GooMSNoo! can come up with ... I have a 5412 x 7212 pixel image of my house that I took at about 3,000 feet on a bright, sunny day. You can see the leaves in the gutters.

    My neighbor might be upset to know that I accidentally caught her sunbathing nekkid on the roof of her house ... Her hubby wanted a shot of his place from the air. Needless to say, I didn't tell him about that one (don't ask, I deleted it) ... On the other hand, the girl my wife was teaching to jump was thrilled when I gave her a copy of herself on horseback, going over the roll-top, from about 3,000 feet up and maybe 4,500 feet away. You can clearly make out her face :-)

    Maybe I'm a terrorist.

    Come to think of it, in the last couple days I've filled up the truck (about 75 gallons of diesel), brought in a lot of fertilizer (about to start this spring's hay and alfalfa, and get our veggie garden ready), re-filled five 10 gallon propane cylinders (one for the grill, two each for the RVs we use for horse shows), and bought about 100 pounds of nails and deck screws (routine maintenance of misc. ranch stuff, and I plan to extend a deck this coming week) ... I'm gonna laugh if I get a knock on the door!

    Politicians. Idiots, the lot of 'em.

    The General Public, or GreatUnwashed ... Even stupider for continuing to put up with 'em.

  12. Magani

    Politician != Deep Thought

    The high res pictures are GOOD for law enforcement and the environment.

    All that a ban will do is to cause the potential crim to have to go and check out the lay of the land in person. This generally requires a vehicle of some description (car, plane, scooter, etc), hence adding to the bad guys' carbon footprint. Far better for the environment to allow the bad guys to plan from home!

    With high res GE, the bad guys will get fat and lazy due to no physical exercise being required in planning their malfeasant activities . Hence they'll drop dead from various cardio vascular diseases, QED! Good for Law Enforcement

    Mine's the one with the pirated copy of 5BX in the pocket,

  13. Jim Birch

    Street Directories

    Terrorist might use might Street Directories to plan attacks too. We mustn't allow this kind on information out. If you want to own a street directory you should at least have to register with Homeland Security and get vetted, inside and out. Ditto GPSs. Ditto sunglasses.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    great idea so if you need a target then... just look at the white spots on the maps and go there to make a detailed analysis.

    what a moron, if everything is visible try to spot from satellite the difference betweem the military base and the base where two soldiers are guarding

    some ton of filed administrative form.

    I can imagine the headline

    "Alqaeda bombing wipes the whole archive of the US Army purchase of sugar

    from the independence war till now - share of makers of dietetical sweetener

    rise on the news"

    now, take care of taking off the map any sensitive spot... I suggest in white,

    maybe also marking with the sentence "sensitive spot, please do not attack here"..

    well, that's and handy map in case you are really planning the attack

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Will only affect the law abiding citizens

    Just like the banning of gun ownership (which meant only the criminals carried them) this will only affect the normal likes of me and thee.

    The crims will still be able to do whatever they want.

    When will these people understand that there are nutcases out there and if they want to blow places up, then there really is sod-all they can do about it? Our society only thrives on the general good will of people to NOT do these things. Laws only punish the criminal after the event; they don't prevent crimes.

    Hardly a deterent for suicide bombers.....

  16. JC

    he's right

    Terrorists and other criminals will definitely use google earth, it will help them plan and execute their plots. It might even give some that are too lazy or dumb to do it another way, the motivation they need to do something they wouldn't have otherwise.

    The counterargument is true as well, someone sufficiently motivated and organized can get the info they need another way. The question is the same as always, how much do we limit our modern conveniences so they won't be used against us? I for one would find the loss of Google earth saddening, but bearable because it hasn't been around in so much glory for very long, we're still reasonably accustomed to doing things other ways. Take away my car or gun on the other hand and it's a day late for that.

  17. Stuart Van Onselen

    Mathematically impaired

    Does this 1/4-wit have even the faintest idea how many schools, churches, government buildings and other "terrorist targets" there are in the world? Or even in his own State? Does he have any idea how much manual labour it will take to locate and blur out every single one of them? Or that this effort would be so outrageously expensive that not even Mountain View would be able to afford it, let alone find it profitable?

    He may as well ask all these services to simply shut down completely.

    Actually, he's not mathematically impaired. He's not even arithmetically impaired. He can't even count: He's innumerate!

  18. Jeff

    The worst terrorist hit ever (?) was the world trade centre.

    a privately owned building, in one of the most densely populated areas of the world. based on prior experience, that's the sort of thing that terrorists have targeted and will target.. not 'hard' targets like official institutions or military bases.

  19. Frank

    They can't help it

    "But the current level of detail invites bad behavior. So we're asking these services to limit the level of detail......"

    He really has a good understanding of the sheeple and the crims. They are so easily tempted by juicy pictures of air ducts and entry/exit points. Also, these base desires to do harm are easily suppressed by removing such pictures from their sight. As a politician, all he had to do is propose a simple solution to an obvious problem and he will be our saviour. We need politicians like this to point out where we've gone wrong and make us go the along the right path.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    can't you cache Google Earth? If they say they'll start blocking anything possibly terrorist related then expect a few copies of cache files to be shared around the criminal fraternity. And the science / sociology fraternitites... pretty much everyone.

    I'm off home to start cacheing my local area in ridiculous levels of detail...

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Better Idea

    Make it ilegal for terrists to use the interwebbything. That'll stop 'em for sure.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "They're not mapping out every inch of the building"

    Does he think that Google's Streetview cars actually drive around inside the buildings, like at the start of the Naked Gun films?

  23. Wortel
    Thumb Down

    Pointless Exercise 101

    Because as commented above, all a terrorist group would need is an insider or two in the vicinity of the target doing a little reconnaissance.

    Pen and paper will do similar 'damage' in capable hands (sketching) even if you remove satellite imagery completely. If you ban all writing/sketching/imagery devices globally, the last danger you will be unable to remove is the human mind - those of us with photographic memory.

    You can never, ever stop human inventiveness.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"

    This is just sheer uninformed bullshit. With the possible exception of some sensitive places like e.g. governmental offices, you can access this information in a variety of legitimate means. Someone should take this congressman for a walk to any local architects office and see how they work. He will surely be dismayed to see they can publicly access schematics of buildings and have detailed maps of towns, often including locations of drainage, water access and electricity supplies, often up to 1:500 in detail. Maybe take him to a local library too: a haven for information that could be misused.

    Does he really think a terrorist attack will be foiled by a blurred map on google??

    I propose a rider to his bill : all public building should be off limits to the general public, for fear a terrorist might access the areas to do reconnaissance.

  25. fran
    Black Helicopters


    Keep 'em scared, that will allow the man to pump more into "security" -laws which will be used whan the real economic crash comes and the population gets restless

  26. Paul Williams


    This will be a massive inconvenience to terrorists.....they will need to go out and buy a map instead........on second thoughts they can simply target airbrushed areas........

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Air ducts?

    This internet thingy is just dangerous and so are all these mobile phones with camera what nots on them. Can't we go back to the good old days when you had to buy a street map and get film developed.

    It might not stop the terrorists but it will take they will have to wait 48 hours for pronto print to send the pictures out.

  28. Anonymous Coward


    Almost six billion people on this planet are not terrorists. Why not cater for them, instead of letting a tiny handful of nutters run things?

  29. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    Eyes are useful to terrorists; Blind everyone

    Being able to see must be hugely useful when planning and implementing a terrorist attack.

    There should be a new law that everyone has to be blinded. If you find anyone who isn't blind, or requests to not be blinded, they are a terrorist! The punishment for that should be death.

    Oh hold on; is it only 2009? Oops this new law isn't due until 2012...

  30. Nigel Callaghan
    Thumb Down

    That explains it....

    Now I understand what was going on with all those IRA bombs in England in the 1970s-1990s - the bombers were lost! They didn't have Google to plan the attacks and so they took a wrong turn and ended up in Manchester instead of Belfast.

    It also explains why there were no terrorist attacks anywhere in the world before Google Maps went on-line.

    This is a silly proposal - if they stop the terrorists looking at their likely targets (what actually is 'likely' - an airport, a shopping centre, a corner shop, a house, a hotel, a b&b, a restaurant, a takeaway?) - if they stop them looking at their likely targets they'll end up accidentally attacking unlikely targets - like my greenhouse! Think of the seedlings!

    When will these control freaks learn? If people want to use violence to further their political aims then they will - no matter how effective a police state our lords and masters create in a pointless attempt to 'protect' us. Face it, it's a nasty world!

    Let's have less of "tough on terrorism, tough on the potential innocent victims of terrorism" and switch to "tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism" - perhaps having a government that doesn't collude in torture, and which jails anyone involved in collusion in torture, would be a good start, and certainly more effective than blurring some satellite photos.

  31. Chris Williams

    @Darling Petunia -- Politicians

    "So much hot air and so few brains. Politicians only have to look good. They do not have to demonstrate intelligence."

    Right on the button. Except the bit about looking good: when did you last take a look at the front bench line-up in UK PLC's House of Commons?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    terrorist targets ?

    ....well that's going to be useful then. There'll only be mountains and trees left over. HM OS should have all urban content blurred too, and while we're at it, the A to Z streetmaps so beloved of us brits should be reclassied and possession result in a trip to a certain Cuban resort.

    In light of recent events, better blur out cricket grounds too.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It used to be maps...

    Years ago, I met some American visitors who were amazed by the detail available on an OS 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map. "Surely that's secret?" they asked, "Is that a military map?". No, this was the Isle of Skye and I was helping them with directions because they'd climbed up a different mountain to the one they thought they were on.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Terrorists Win

    Each new piece of anti-terror legislation just goes further to proving one thing - the terrorists have won.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Stupid

    Almost six billion people on this planet are not politicians. Why not cater for them, instead of letting a tiny handful of nutters run things?

  36. David Clarke

    British military establishments

    I see that after pointing out the concern regarding Googles photographs of UK military establishments you then go on to show these shots in detail. Your excuse would no doubt be that "they are already in the public domain". It's a fair bet any body who was not aware of this fact certainly is now. I feel sure that your efforts in further publishing these photographs will make the men and women risking their lives for this country sleep more soundly but then again you have no accountability for any endangerment that this article may cause.


  37. Steven Jones

    Logical extension

    The logical extension of this is that posting any photographs showing significant detail of "potential terrorist targets" would have to be banned. Given that the list of public buildings is already very wide schools, churches, government building and so on, then add in commercial, transport, sports venues - in fact almost anything but private dwellings, then we end up with the nonsense that what must already be many 10s, very probably 100s of millions of photographs already available.

    Now it might not be quite as convenient as using Google Earth, but it's extremely easy to search for images of any likely target building you care to name. Unless they are also to band online maps as well, the locations of these can be easily determined.

    Now if course, the UK government wouldn't dream of following suit and passing some open-ended law open to interpretation by the courts, leaving the police a license to aprehend individcuals on something close to a whim. Something like a law which makes it illegal to photograph a policeman or member of the armed services that is likely to be of use to terrorists. Of course they wouldn't would they - I must have dreamt up the thought on a particularly bad day.

    Of course there is an issue about satellite (or rather, aerial photography), and that is about individual and personal privacy. However, all this stuff is aimed at the public side, then clearly that doesn't matter.

  38. J Ford

    ban everything

    Next up will be proposals for people getting their photos of public places pulled from Flickr and similar public sites, because they could potentially be useful to terrorists, that is if they haven't been nicked for taking a photograph in the first place.

  39. Sandy
    Black Helicopters

    Another example of he nanny state

    I understand that having access to all the weak point of all the potential terrorist tagets could be seen as an invitation to target any given building, surely if someone is going to target a particular place, all they would have to do is walk past it a couple of times to recce the surrounds for themselves, or is that going to be next - getting arrested for walking past a building with intent - Oh I forgot we already have that in the UK

  40. Richard Porter

    Why bother?

    You don't need bombs to destroy your enemy these days - you just need bankers.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    it'll make it easier for the terrorists

    Just target the blurred bits...

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Saving the crims time and effort

    So now all crims have to do is contact the government saying they are setting up a service like google earth and ask for a list of all of the buildings along with coordinates that they need to blur out before the public get to see it. Instant target list.

  43. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    Makes you wonder...

    Does make you wonder how these morons are allowed to breed and mingle in civilized society doen't it? So tell me Mr Senator, how did "freedom fighters"/terrorists manage before the internet arrived? Hmmm, tricky!

    Best comment on this hoo-har was over at Slashdot:

    "Why don't we just blur out the terrorist's bases, then let the problem sort itself out!"

  44. David Clarke

    UK Military Establishments

    I notice that a few respondees to my previous posting go into the realms of the ridiculous in order to make their point. I only wish to explain that publishing photo's of the accomodation blocks of the SAS troops and also the dispersing arrangements and berthing positions of some of the RN's nuclear boats is foolhardy. Using the details and exact position allows any person to simply work out for example inclination and azimouth details to fire a mortar from the nearest public road and be assured that their round will hit whatever target they choose. My comments are not based on hypothesis but on previous attacks that have taken place in other parts of the world. As I have previously intimated one can suggest almost anything if there is no accountability involved.


  45. Peter
    Thumb Down

    You are kidding, right?

    Do all these wackos come from California?

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Military bases, sure, but they're already blanked out, aren't they?

    Removing detail from a building that you can just walk up to and take a picture of is moronic.

    That's like saying people would stop eating if they no longer could order food over the internet.

  47. Anders Halling

    @David Clarke

    "Any person" with access to a mortar and the knowhow to fire one accurately can do the same with a pair of binoculars and a map. And of course if anyone want to do this they will have ample opportunity to observe and adjust and fire again (and again, and again, and... ) before any response can even begin to arrive. Given that most attacks these days are suicide attacks anyway they will be unlikely to be worried about getting away.

    What's the ROF of a modern mortar? Wiki says 12 rounds pr. minute sustained fire for a standard 81mm mortar. Time to target? less than a minute at practical range (~30 sec at 2 km)

    How fast can you get an armed response team to an arbitrary location within a 2km radius of a peacetime/threat level white military base? I'd say less than 20min. is extremely unlikely and that presumes a ready team of armed guards at the gate, and that they will respond to a mortar attack instead of taking shelter.

    So when the attackers start lobbing shells, say they need 30 sec. time-to-target, and 30 sec. for adjusting the sights between each spotting round. 5 rounds should do for spotting against a stationary target giving a 15 minute barrage at max. sustained ROF. This means thay will have ample time to lob all the shells it's practical to bring along anyway.

    In other words: If someone has the motvation, the knowhow and the means to launch a mortar attack at a low readiness military target they really don't need detailed pictures to pull it off.

  48. Frank

    @David Clarke re. UK Military Establishments

    Nobody has responded to your previous posting. You need to watch out for a title of

    '@David Clarke re. British Military Establishments'

  49. Hayden Clark Silver badge

    Follow the money...

    ... any chance the Satellite Imagery companies are trying to reduce the amount of high-quality free images around by supporting their local friendly Senator?

  50. Maty

    shock update folks ...

    Security through obscurity doesn't work.

  51. Anonymous Coward

    Area 51

    Anybody remember when Google Earth used to include Area 51 as one of the pre-set saved locations? It doesn't anymore, but I see the place is now visible in enough detail to make out air vents. Surely this is a major security risk considering some of the "terrorists" in this case may be able to hit a small target from several au away.

  52. Jodo Kast

    More fear mongering

    Do tell!

  53. jake Silver badge

    @AC 10:10 & @Roger

    "Years ago, I met some American visitors who were amazed by the detail available on an OS 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map."

    Then they were ignorant and/or idiots. I've got maps of most of California with the same kind of detail as my maps of England, Scotland and Wales. See:

    "Do all these wackos come from California?"

    No. Most are from the Deep South & Bible belt. Many wind up in the Idaho Rockies.

  54. jake Silver badge


    You know your comment was the 51st, right?

  55. Andy


    Security through obscurity doesn't work? Then why is it one of the first arguments trotted out for things like the security of Mac OS X?

    It does work, it's just not as effective as active security measures. Combine the two, and it's even greater than the sum of its parts.

  56. neil
    Black Helicopters

    Too late!


    By Anonymous Coward Posted Thursday 5th March 2009 15:58 GMT

    Military bases, sure, but they're already blanked out, aren't they?

    No, most UK bases are now in reduced resolution and/or older data, 5 years ago I needed an overhead of Bisley for a Scouting event, no problem I used Google Earth, the NEW Lord Roberts Centre was clearly visible. Doing an updated overhead last year and its missing, along with any new detail of Pirbright camp, Google having rolled back their data set by 10 years...Microsofts version is just very low res.

    Of course Google's supplying gov't agencies the full upto date stuff, and the drive-by data, as you'd expect as they employ ex-spooks to sell their wares and interface with gov't depts.

    Google is NOT your friend.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's just all hide under rocks

    Shortly after 9/11 the FAA started telling pilots to avoid flying over nuclear power plant sites. As a pilot, I thought it would be useful to compile a list of GPS coordinates of such sites so that I could be sure to avoid them and stay out of trouble. But some twit in a position of authority caused the removal of precise location data of these sites from various government sites, and the FAA only provided vague location information for pilots at the time. At least I was able to deduce the precise plant locations from Google aerial data. That gave me some piece of mind.

    The terrorists have won. We are terrorized. That's what people like the legislator don't understand. He should consult with Bruce Schneier and learn about security before holding forth on these matters.

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