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Surprising Science

The Case For a Free and Open Google Earth

The Freakonmics blog yesterday highlighted the tragic absurdity of the Google Earth debate. While some British youth use the site to locate private pools to host illegal parties, evidence suggests that terrorists have used Google Earth to target British bases in Basra and also to help plan the attacks in Mumbai in November.  

In light of this, an Indian Court has been pressured to ban Google Earth entirely the same way Turkey has banned Youtube.

The post debates the philosophical problems with censorship as well as the slippery slope. “If India succeeds in banning Google Earth,” the ask Messrs. Dubner and Levitt, “will Frommer’s Guide be next?” A stronger argument would begin by judging whether or not the policy would provide an adequate deterrent to the threat of terrorism. My guess is not.

First, the Mumbai terrorists were confirmed to be Pakistani who plotted the attacks from Karachi. In this case, it seems that banning Google Earth in India would provide little if any deterrence at all. In any case, a simple internet search provides many ways of circumventing internet censorship through the use of proxy servers.  A more compelling suggestion, at least technically, would be to advocate for Google to blur the images of sensitive areas, as they have to the White House in the past. This ultimately prompts the question of whether or not countries maintain jurisdiction over the access to land imagery within their borders from publicly provided technology. Welcome to the new global society, controlled by Google.


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