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3/12/2009
07:01 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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The Bill To Blur Google Earth

The satellite imagery in Google Earth and Google Maps is the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded movie theater, which is to say that it's not protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.

The satellite imagery in Google Earth and Google Maps is the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded movie theater, which is to say that it's not protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.That loopy bit of pseudo-logic comes from California Assemblyman Joel Anderson who is backing a bill to limit the detail of online maps and to fine violators up to $250,000 per day.

The bill is designated AB-255.

Anderson made the movie theater analogy in an interview with CNET's Charles Cooper. It seems he's keen to provide the United States with the level of censorship demanded by China, India, and Egypt, none of which like the idea of detailed, accurate maps.

Anderson's argument is that satellite imagery is too detailed. He thinks the being able to see too much represents a threat.

"I'm not against the technology; it's fantastic," he told Cooper. "But we're in an evolving world and we have to change our course as it changes. I'm all for online mapping, but knowing where the air ducts are in an air shaft is not necessary for me to navigate in the city. Who wants to know that level of detail? Bad people do."

Anderson says he's not against technology, but it's clear he's against common sense.

The features photographed on satellite imagery are, more or less, visible from the ground. There were terrorist attacks before Google Earth was available and there will continue to be terrorist attacks, whether or not Google Earth's images are blurred.

Anderson insists there are no legitimate uses for detailed satellite images. By that logic, there are no legitimate uses for detailed photographic images taken from the ground, from high buildings, or aircraft. (Indeed, the bill also would limit aerial photography.)

Given that there have been plenty of absurd incidents where still and video cameras have been seized in the name of national security, let's continue the stupidity and insist that lenses be limited to focusing on objects within 50 feet -- a more panoramic expanse could be used by terrorists. And while we're at it, why not mandate the application of Vaseline to every lens to limit dangerous clarity?

Sure, terrorists might use guns to kill people, but that's technology we can't touch, due to the 2nd Amendment. So let's blur maps!

Or not.

If the Constitution ever gets a 28th Amendment, pray that it bans knee-jerk fear-mongering and vapid legislation.

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