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3/16/2009
06:09 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google Earth Used For Crimes: Pretend You're Surprised

When a thief uses a tool to commit a crime, the tool usually isn't featured prominently in the story unless it's particularly odd. "Car Used To Help Robbers Escape" would make a poor headline.

When a thief uses a tool to commit a crime, the tool usually isn't featured prominently in the story unless it's particularly odd. "Car Used To Help Robbers Escape" would make a poor headline.Yet Google Earth, used by hundreds of millions worldwide, always shows up in headlines when used for ill.

The U.K.'s Telegraph, for example, is reporting that a 27-year-old named Tom Berge stole £100,000 (about $141,000) worth of lead from the roofs of buildings after identifying the structures using Google Earth.

The notion that Google Earth's involvement in a crime is newsworthy suggests that people still haven't come to terms with the world's relatively recent access to satellite imagery. Implicit in focusing on the role of Google Earth in the commission of a crime is the suggestion that perhaps such technology should be regulated or banned, for our protection.

That's not an uncommon thought, judging by the various efforts around the globe to ban or limit Google Earth.

But it's painfully naïve, too. Just because a tool can be misused doesn't mean it should be regulated or banned.

The bad guys get to use the same technology that the good guys use. That's just the way it is. But the story, if there is one, should deal with the crime more than the tool.

Consider that Berge reportedly used climbing gear to rappel down the sides of buildings with the lead he'd stolen from building roofs. And then note that the Telegraph's headline is not "Rope and Carabiners Used By Thief To Steal Valuable Lead."

Now I understand that Google Earth was used in the headline in part for Google News placement -- far more people search for and write about Google than climbing gear. But let's stop pretending to be surprised that computer technology can be used for bad things.

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