US National GIA Discusses Censoring Satellite Photos

The Associated Press has published a story (picked up by all the news media) after interviewing Vice Adm. Robert Murrett, director of the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). This organization oversees and funds sources of satellite photos used by both defense organizations as well as imagery for public consumption. DigitalGlobe, the primary source of satellite photos for Google Earth, has already benefited from government funds. With the help of about $1 billion from Murrett’s agency, DigitalGlobe, and its competitor GeoEye, plan to launch new satellites with higher resolutions later this year. Government regulations will require resulting satellite photos shared publicly from these satellites to be at a resolution no better than .5 meters per pixel.
Interestingly, Murrett says: “I could certainly foresee circumstances in which we would not want imagery to be openly disseminated of a sensitive site of any type, whether it is here or overseas.” He goes on to say they may exert “control over” imagery in some unspecified manner to sensitive locations. This could mean not allowing imagery for certain locations to be shared, or somehow altering imagery for those locations.
Some industry experts believe it may be difficult for one agency to limit the dissemination of such imagery. There are image providers now from several international satellite companies as well as aerial photographers. And the demand for high resolution photos for applications like Google Earth is increasing. “…this cat may be out of the bag for good. It’s just not clear that the legal or other tools needed to restrict disclosure are available.” So says Steve Aftergood, a secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists.
via SlashGeo via SlashDot.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. The acronym for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is NGA, by the way.

  2. I think if the NGA was interested in preventing terrorist threats from obtaining maps of “sensative areas” around the globe, then the NGA might benefit more by monitoring those interested in those “sensative areas” rather than attempting to censor those “sensative areas”.
    The analogy is simple, really. No area is supposedly “safe” from a terrorist threat, if that area is deemed only sensative enough as a target by a terrorist threat. The idea then alludes that all areas are potential targets – thus, my house too should be considered for censoring.
    But with this logic, we must censor all imagery. And we must assume that terrorists care most about some targets even though most of the targets that they seem to go for are never deemed “sensative areas.”
    Interesting how the paranoia works, isn’t it? Is it just me, or is it simply a way to gain more tax money from the tax-payer that drives these ideas – or is it simply the act of “doing something” that they think will appease the tax-payer at the end of the day?
    I’m still a little confused on the logic I see coming from not only those who discuss this issue – but frankly, the agencies who continue to push forward with more redaction initiatives.
    And the irony? Who really suffers? That comes to me as rather obvious when one sits to think about it for even a brief moment.

  3. It appears to be another attempt at censorship, which has always failed throughout history and the freedom of information provided through the internet from such a wide range of sources continues to “catch people off guard”….but when its too late….its too late.
    The fact is… long as you have companies providing more technology/information…..including images, photographs, video, etc. available for the world to see…..whether the pictures were taken by satellite or any other means……there is no longer much control or any true way of interferring with such a technological progression…..and anyone on Earth….now can look for themselves at whatever and wherever they wish.
    It’s progress…..for better and worse… anyone can use whatever info. they seek and find…..for whatever they wish no matter what the ramifications might inevitably be. It does put some fear into people…..I’m sure.

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