I once had an acquaintance
who was arguing with another friend over the location of a certain beach.
Was it 20 minutes South of one city, or 10 minutes North of another?
The issue was solved when one whipped out their laptop, opened up Google
Earth, and pinpointed the precise location of said beach: problem solved.
You want to find the location
of a good ice cream shop within 30 miles of a vacation destination? Consult Google Earth. A great hamburger joint on the way to Montana? Google Earth! You want
to make sure the hotel at which you’ll be staying, is indeed on the
beach? Check, check, check! However, the downside of this technology
has been considered by members of the California government as well:
that Google Earth may be a national security risk.
In a February 11, 2009 bill
titled AB-255, Assembly Member Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) introduced
the bill “relating to Internet security.”
The gist of the bill is this:
A commercial website that “makes a virtual globe browser available
to members of the public” would be prohibited “from providing aerial
or satellite photographs or imagery of places in this state that have
been identified on the Internet… as a school, place of worship, or
government or medical building or facility.”
However, if the images
are available, they must be blurred. The bill further suggests that
the Web site or provider would not be able to provide “street view
photographs or imagery” of the aforementioned types of facilities.
The bill enumerates the punishments (we’ll get to that in a moment)
but also adds another interesting element: because of the nature of
the beast, the passage of such a bill “would create new crimes,”
and thus the logic goes, would also “impose a state-mandated local
program.” Basically, in order to keep a tighter lid on information,
the bill suggests adding a layer of bureaucracy.
If passed, the bill would also
punish those who transgress, with the possibility of prison time (“one,
two, or three years in prison”) and/or hefty fines (“not less than
two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000) for each day in violation”).
This bill poses many questions.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, there are those who would use the
brilliant power of the Internet for seedier and harmful reasons; the
bill appears to be a proactive step to preventing the use of sensitive
information by those who would use the information for ill.
argue that restricting precise satellite imaging of certain more at-risk
facilities would cut into First Amendment rights; however, it can also
be argued (by these facilities, including those operating government
facilities), that is it also a free speech right to privacy, to have
their precise locations kept more, well, private.
Is the bill flawed?
Certainly. Could this be construed as a national security issue? Of
course, on the off-chance that the Internet
and readily-available satellite imaging is used against those who would
promote knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Is there a need to make a
new program to oversee the enacting of one new law? There is no reason
to add in additional program; pick one agency to oversee the effort,
be it Homeland Security, local police precincts (for the individual
buildings in question) or the FBI, and stick with it. Heck, even put
the monitoring of this program under the cyber crimes unit of the FBI;
there is already a great deal of overlap in federal agencies. A new
program would simply cause more confusion.
Update: according to the California
State Senate website, AB-255 was in committee, with a hearing date set,
though the hearing was “canceled at the request of author.” More
information on this bill to come, as available.