updated 02:48 am EDT, Tue June 19, 2012
Planes allegedly discriminate objects smaller than four inches
Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) recently sent letters to Google CEO Larry Page and Apple chief Tim Cook decrying usage of "military-grade spy planes" used to generate the 3D images for new map applications for both companies. Concerns range from invasion of privacy all the way up to assisting terrorism in providing details of infrastructure and sensitive government facilities. Neither Apple nor Google have publicly responded to the senator's call to action so far.
Schumer says that "high-resolution 3D mapping may have some very useful and practical applications, but the technology that is reported to be used by these companies brings a level of precision that has never before been utilized for public purposes. " Schumer is concerned that a technological race between the two internet behemoths could have the ultimate cost of erosion of basic privacy, and elevating security risks.
Apple and Google have been called upon to provide four concessions: notify communities when the mapping is taking place, automatically blur identities of people who are pictured, give property owners the right to opt-out of mapping, and put protocols in place with law enforcement to guarantee that sensitive information will be blurred on published maps.
Google's existing photographic map service blurs out selected secure installations, but as shown below, the Norfolk Naval Base submarine and destroyer piers have good fidelity, even using older technology. The legendary and formerly-secret "Area-51" is redacted in Google maps, however. The technology in use by Apple and Google currently is allegedly capable of seeing into windows, and distinguishing objects as small as four inches in diameter.
Schumer wished to strike a balance between privacy and technology. Schumer added "while the use of this technology may well have very functional and important uses, we need to make sure that reasonable protections are in place to protect individuals and the public."
Google plans on mapping over 300 million residences by the end of 2012. Specific mapping plans have not been laid out by Apple, but plans to supplant Google Maps have already been specified for iOS 6.