After Google Earth Is Banned, What's Next?


For all the good that Google Earth has brought to the world, it’s been a boon for ne’er-do-wells and mischief-makers as well. In the U.K., teenage hooligans allegedly use it to scope out private pools they can crash for impromptu parties. On a darker note, insurgents in Iraq used images from Google Maps to guide their attacks. And the terrorists who killed 170 people in Mumbai last November supposedly used Google Maps images for help navigating the city.

Now an Indian court is considering a ban on Google Earth, hoping to deprive future terrorists of a crucial technology.

Bruce Schneier wonders what we might consider banning next:

Criminals have used telephones and mobile phones since they were invented. Drug smugglers use airplanes and boats, radios and satellite phones. Bank robbers have long used cars and motorcycles as getaway vehicles, and horses before then. I haven’t seen it talked about yet, but the Mumbai terrorists used boats as well. They also wore boots. They ate lunch at restaurants, drank bottled water, and breathed the air. Society survives all of this because the good uses of infrastructure far outweigh the bad uses, even though the good uses are — by and large — small and pedestrian, and the bad uses are rare and spectacular. And while terrorism turns society’s very infrastructure against itself, we only harm ourselves by dismantling that infrastructure in response.

If India succeeds in banning Google Earth, will Frommer’s Guide be next?


It's also true that virtually all murders and mass killings in modern history used a strange and terrifying substance called "metal," and it's doubtful that many of those acts would have been carried out if this "metal" had not been so prevalent and freely available.

I'm not suggesting an outright ban of all metals, of course, just that the government institute strong controls to make sure that metal is available only to military, law enforcement, and (with extra paperwork) scientific communities.

Seriously, people have a long history of banning that which they don't understand. This habit should be fought wherever and whenever it arises.

Christian Bieck

Satiricists have been talking about that for a while. My favorites: 90% of terrorists had bread in the morning - ban bread! 100% of terrorists have mothers - ban parenthood! ;-)

Jason Goodman

The world needs more cross-posting between Schneier's blog and Freakonomics.

Craig DeForest

When Google Earth is outlawed, only outlaws will have Google Earth...


Yeah, let's ban google earth. It is not like there is a analog equivalent to these digital, well, let's call them 'maps' that people can pick up at any gas station.

...oh, wait. Well, we can ban paper maps too. It is not as if people can memorize routes.

...oh, wait. Well, we could always lobotomize them? It worked for us, obviously.

Kevin P.

An obvious answer is a ban on guns, leading to a situation where law abiding people will be unable to keep them for defense of self, family and home, while criminals will freely obtain them on the black market and use them to prey upon law abiding people.

Oh wait...


The thing is, Google Earth provides information to the public that would otherwise not be available and it's only good is satisfying curiosity: quite unlike boots, fresh air, and restaurants.

Imad Qureshi

I 100% agree with Bruce Schneier. We shouldn't change our way of life because of few. We should be fighting these people.

Garrett Pendergast

There is always someone who would solve any problem with a ban on the new idea. This is espeiclaly true when that persons position in life is threatened.

KC Khoury

Now that the images are out there on multiple services, it would be easy to cache the maps and make your own private system for internal networks for terrorism.


> that would otherwise not be available and it's only good
> is satisfying curiosity

How can you tell that this is the only good?

Heck, most of basic science research falls into the "only good is satisfying curiosity" bucket when it's performed. The question is what uses people think of putting the results to. With Google Earth we don't even know yet (though things like tracking rainforest clear-cutting are popping up).


Not completely true. I used it extensively when searching for our new home. It allowed me to see the type of street a house was on, how close it was to different things we wanted as well as did not want.

I also use it when looking up where I'm going for the first time. When it come to the city it's helpful in spotting parking lots.

Dan Limbach

I am definitely opposed to a ban of Google Earth. Now, there are some types of information we choose to keep classified, such as the names of our "spies," the locations of individual troops and those of our missile silos and weapons labs, the location of Elvis Presley, etc. Most of these fall under "National Security." Nobody is crying that we should freely allow access to this information, because it puts lives at greater risk than they are in already (well maybe not Elvis). The point is, there is a line that determines what is public and what is classified. Which side of the line does Google Earth fall?

My suggestion would be to add a feature akin to an unlisted phone number. If you own a building or property, and you don't want satellite images of you rproperty displayed on Google Earth, you register for a "restricted access" or "blackout" status for your property.

Unfortunately, Google Earth will look like swiss cheese. So this should probably only be allowed under certain conditions (which is a whole can of worms).

We should consider the rights of property owners as well as the at-large population's rights to utilize these maps for education or to snoop for their entertainment.


Scott Supak

Pointless when information flows like water.

But, I like zadig's point. I would add, however, that the government does have a job at least regulating, educating, and controlling access to and insurance of any potentially fatal high-speed metal like bullets and cars.

James A

#4 Dang, you beat me to the punch....


Re: potentially fatal high-speed metal...

I always did think those guys selling Ginsu knifes should have some sort of government oversight. I mean, slicing AND dicing? No unlicensed person really needs that sort of power.

Sure, I can understand if you need to slice, but I diced one time (under peer pressure of course) and the guilt is overwhelming. I can't abide such things being taught to our children.

Similarly that Google Earth dealie. I ask you, if our wives and indentured servants find out that there are roads out of town, how can we hope to keep them locked in their closets? Freedom from want is freedom to keep other people in the dark and manipulate their ignorance, yes?

What do you mean, "no?"


how disingenuous- they should work on banning nuclear weapons (duh)


I used multimap's Birds Eye feature when boasting on IM about my new house to people I went to university with.


I agree with Carl at #12. GoogleEarth is brilliant when one is researching neighborhoods for perfectly normal, law-abiding reasons. I never thought of the parking lot angle--thanks for the tip, Carl!

Are they going to ban Street Views, too? How else will I know the landmarks when I'm driving somewhere unfamiliar?


There is always a flip side to every story. Here is an example of the positive side.

Technology is always neutral but it can be used for good or bad depending on your intentions.