Article Entry

12 Aug 2009


Is Google Earth Closing the Geo-Information Gap Between Government and Citizens?

Added by Category: Daily Intelligence Brief

We stumbled upon a most interesting TechCrunch article about how, thanks to Google Earth, anyone can see where the CIA missile potentially took out the leader of Pakistan’s Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud. The article points out that a decade ago, only those with security clearances would have had access to such satellite imagery. And, thanks to Google Earth, anyone can download it for free and this is speeding up the rate at which the geo-information gap between governments and citizens is closing.

Here’s the image:

While Google Earth is allowing anyone to access satellite images, there are still some challenges — meaning we will always need high-caliber images from spy satellites. First, all of Google Earth’s images are not in real time. And, the resolution is not as clear. What do you all think? Is a consumer application like Google Earth going to take over the need for actual imagery from spy satellites?

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  1. D. Michael wrote: 12 August 2009

    The bigger question here is probably whether the private sector can do a better job than the government. Given the current debate over healthcare reform, that Google Earth can display satellite photography is like a Medicare patient using ‘out-of-network’ providers that get triple reimbursement. If at some point a Superior entity shows it’s-self more capable of even basic government functions, who could argue the antiquation of contemporary channels. But no, at present, there is no real comparrison in quality between private and public to be imagined.

  2. USGIF wrote: 13 August 2009

    From Linked-In:

    I don’t believe so because you best believe that by the time we even had access to something like google earth, the government already has something waaaaaaaaaay better. Probably something that can see through walls from space in both color and real time. Maybe even hear whispered conversations through thick steel walls. The government is always so far ahead of what they release to the public (which they should be). I guess that’s the whole point of something being a secret :)

  3. USGIF wrote: 13 August 2009

    From Linked-In:

    No. Accuracy of Google is lacking. Anyone who looks up an address knows that.

  4. USGIF wrote: 13 August 2009

    From Linked-In:

    No. Simply put.

  5. Todd Drumm wrote: 13 August 2009

    Often times the waaay better stuff is developed and supplied by government vendors, admittedly sometimes with DOD grants. Having said that, Google could never afford to supply Joe 6 pack the timely data (often true 3D files) coming from a Predator, Condor or a spy satellite. Their customer base is just not willing to pay for it, nor do most of them need it to run their business.

  6. USGIF wrote: 13 August 2009

    From Linked-In:

    While Google Earth is great for visualizing in 3D areas non-built-up and non-vegetated regions (e.g., much of Afghanistan), the visualizations fall short when intervening 3D objects or vegetation play a part in determining intervisibility. For this reason alone, GE will be relegated to being a shortcut to more sophisticated visualization techniques. It can actually mislead citizens by potentially misleading them about the on-the-ground conditions.

  7. USGIF wrote: 13 August 2009

    From Linked-In:

    Often times the software and hardware that makes government data superior to Google is developed and supplied by private sector government vendors, admittedly sometimes with DOD grants. Having said that Google could never afford to supply Joe 6 pack the timely data (often true 3D files) coming from a Predator, Condor or a spy satellite. Their customer base is just not willing to pay for it, nor do most of them need it to run their business.

  8. USGIF wrote: 13 August 2009

    From Linked-In:

    In my opinion Google Earth has proven to be an excellent tool for visualizing geoinformation which requires not too much detail and resolution. This way of displaying data is most effective for orientation, for demonstrating the power and potential of full featured GIS applications, databases and methodology.

    I think it should be regarded as a tool for basic education, knowledge transfer and of course entertainment all aiming to make GIS more popular.

  9. Brian Quinn wrote: 13 August 2009

    I appreciate this post’s “minding the gap” – because it puts the focus on a space in need of filling. Schonfeld’s post regarding Geens’ analysis are fine examples of imagery as grist for the (not necessarily a rumor) mill. With very many eyes sharing a common view of georeferenced imagery, sometimes drops of insight will rain out of the cloud.

    As regards the gap, I don’t see a clear line between private and government at all. Geens found detailed DG imagery of Nargosa of 2007 01 07 because someone or some government agency paid for its collection and then saw the imagery through as a contribution to Google Earth.

    Discussions about private Vs. government often read as colored by an assumption of separateness. In practice, much of what actually gets done, especially on larger projects, is a result of partnerships and collaboration.

    Local government funding of aerial surveys is justified by agency needs, and the orthoimagery is produced by a private company to specifications in a government contract.
    The gap is only narrowed when the agency has the foresight to purchase unrestricted rights to the orthos, and the follow-through to send the imagery along to Google Earth or similar repositories. Only then will people viewing that county in GE find ready access to their house in 10-cm natural color imagery.

    The same is true of uber-detailed terrain information. A county might have a finely detailed set of contours and breaklines, the product of multiple $100k of photogrammetric outlays that produced a product for the needs of public works and public safety and planning. But unless those data are gridded into a locally-produced terrain grid and contributed to GE and other repositories, most people won’t get to “see” the benefits of that terrain–in 3D views, at least. And a contribution of terrain is a gift that keeps on giving—because in GE it can underlie all sorts of different imagery dates.

    Yet another way to help plug the gap is to dust off the archives of historic paper prints and maps and get them scanned and georeferenced and contributed to the repository. The local public and researchers anywhere can benefit from this access, and historic records may be more likely to stay preserved in electronic form.

    In this context: Imagery, terrain, and historic photos and maps, the public raster GIS repositories that are Google Earth and others are infrastructure—a geospatial Web-2.0 analog of the Carnegie Libraries from a century ago.
    To follow that analogy a bit, it seems the producers (public, private, and government-contracted) of geospatial content are like the authors of the books in the library, while the consumers (the browsing public, analysts, and GEOINT professionals) are those who visit the library. Of course, authors may themselves pay visits to libraries as well…

  10. Anonymous wrote: 14 August 2009

    From Linked-In:

    No. The resolution is not there. It’s a great educational tool, a wonderful GIS application and fun for finding long lost hang outs. I’m sure the really hot imagery from various “Agencies” i.e. real time, hi resolution files are locked down for awhile.

  11. USGIF Linked-In Feed: wrote: 15 August 2009

    Simply put yes, at least to a certain extent, but the gap is the smallest it has ever been, which now present its own specific and unique problems and concerns from the counter-terrorist view point

  12. Library: A Round-up of Reading « Res Communis wrote: 17 August 2009

    [...] Is Google Earth Closing the Geo-Information Gap Between Government and Citizens? – Got GEOINT? [...]

  13. Anonymous wrote: 18 August 2009

    I really liked this post which helps nurture healthy conversations. Are we missing out an important point which is “GIS platform for sharing information.” Google Earth is a GIS platform for sharing social media information at internet speed universally across devices, languages….
    “Sharing information” is still a 30-year-old new initiative for public sector. I think that is the mind gap here.

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