Google Earth: Terrorism's not our fault

Should cell phones, GPS devices and, heck, even cars be banned just because the bad guys use them?

John Hanke, the man in charge of Google Earth and Google Maps, invoked those three pieces of modern technology in defense of his company's satellite imagery application, which has been blamed by some for helping terrorists plot their acts of destruction.

A brief filed in Indian court in the investigation into the deadly November attacks in Mumbai cited cited Google Earth as having aided the terrorists who coordinated the series of 10 attacks. And The Jerusalem Post wrote about a Hamas documentary that showed terrorists using the application to plot an attack on Israel.

Some have cited those two instances as reasons why Google should have to pixilate certain images or hide sensitive locales.

So in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Hanke pointed out that terrorists have always used a multitude of ways to commit their destructive acts, and just because they used the latest technology didn't mean that's what was at fault:

If Google Earth didn't exist, would they have used a tourist map they could have bought or was the real intelligence actually coming from an on-the-ground informant who was working in the hotel and drawing layouts of everything on a napkin? You have cars; you have car bombs. You have GPS transceivers that help you navigate; those GPS transceivers could be used for lots of nefarious purposes. Cell phones have all kinds of benefits; cell phones can be used to detonate a remote explosive device.

The "bad guys" will use anything to achieve their goals, he said. The argument, he said, had been more or less discounted in more open societies such as the United States and parts of Europe. But in nations where the government is used to controlling the information available to the masses, the easy access to Google Earth is a hard thing to accept.

The application uses a combination of aerial and satellite images to give viewers a closer look at what's going on almost anywhere on the planet, sometimes down to the street level.