Here is my latest Kirt's Cogitation. Your comments are encouraged. Nowhere to Hide (click to read on RF Cafe website)
With each new advance in communications technology, we are warned by groups of usually well-intentioned - if not a bit paranoid - people and groups of people* that the development is yet another step closer to the government wielding complete control over our movements and habits. In the days before omnipresent video surveillance cameras, RFID tags, and easily tracked cellphones, the monitoring was carried out by human agents. Electronics bugs, telephone tapping, radio signal interception, and visual observations were the tools of the day (and are still used today in conjunction with the aforementioned).
* e.g., KOOKS - Keepers Of Odd Knowledge Society, a hard-to-track-down brotherhood of conspiracy theorists who don't even have a website.
Old methods required that an agent be expecting an event worthy of his time and trouble, since it is very expensive to maintain an army of "watchers" just in case something interesting happened to occur. New methods, being comprised of full-time electronic sentries, are to human assets what robots are on the production line that have replaced human operators - they are reliable, highly repeatable, economical, can keep a record of their actions for later inquiry, and don't ask for time off. Prior to 1949 there was not a universally adopted name for an omniscient, omnipresent government presence, but thanks the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four we now have a term: Orwellian.
The latest cause célèbre for privacy-obsessed types is Google Earth's Street View feature. Google Earth and Microsoft's Virtual Earth use a combination of satellite and airplane photographs to generate its legendary maps with resolutions measuring in feet in some areas of the world. That level of detail is good for detecting whether or not a person or vehicle is in a particular photo, but it cannot discern faces or license plate numbers. Launched on May 25, 2007, Street View does that job - a bit too well for some people. In fact, lawsuits have been filed against Google for the voyeuristic nature of the method. Google argues (usually successfully) that the images they obtain can be duplicated by anybody with a camera, and it is not illegal to take pictures.
Street View images are obtained by vehicles that are equipped with high-resolution, high-speed cameras that capture panoramic views of everything in the vehicle's path. GPS coordinates tag the images for correlation to map coordinates. Both vans and cars are used to host the special cameras. Early cameras were housed in blocky turrets, but the new generation devices remind me of a star projector head from a planetarium. After seeing its configuration, the range of perspectives available from the Street View shots is understandable. A supplement to the Google vehicle-obtained photographs are a series of images submitted by individuals of particular objects or areas. BTW, GPS-photo correlation devices are available for mortals as well - check out GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr.
Many websites exist with examples of images ranging from very funny to very intrusive. A simple search will turn up hundreds. Unfortunately, Google has edited out, blurred out, or completely replaced the most noteworthy images. In fact, a face recognition feature in their processing software now automatically blurs human faces and tag numbers for all their images. I spent probably half an hour looking through Street View images all over the world, and did not see a single non-blurry face. However, you can bet that if the need arises, as with receiving a request by law enforcement for a clear version, an un-blurring algorithm is readily applicable. We know unfuzzification can be done, because every couple weeks Charlie does something like that for the FBI on Numb3rs. Local PDs, the FBI, CIA, NSA, and other 3-letter agencies have ready access to all manner of data that it can and does use to fight crime (and probably to cover its own footprints when necessary).
Indeed, pictures obtained by the Street View cameras have caused a stir amongst even governments on more than one occasion. The latest incident was when a vehicle was allowed passage onto the grounds of Fort Sam Houston Army Base, in Texas. Shortly thereafter, all military installations were instructed to deny entry. Entire towns in Europe have banned the vehicles by an administrative fiat - they require that a permit be applied for, and then deny the permit. Try anywhere in China to find a Street View shot (Doh, poor choice of words in a sentence with China).
Even the satellite views from both Google Earth and Microsoft's Virtual Earth have been known to shock militaries worldwide. To name a few, there was the exposure of the top secret low cavitation propeller (oops, sorry, "screw") on an Ohio-class nuclear submarine in dry dock. That is the first time I had ever seen it, and can recall reading an article about the one-of-a-kind, super-sophisticated, 5-axis, CNC machine that took something like 18 months to cut it. Google Earth captured a Chinese Jin-class sub for the first time. Hmmm, maybe it is time that navies start painting the tops of their submarines to look like whales? The Indian Air Force had a fit over satellite images of its bases showing in fine detail positions of bunkers, hangers, aircraft parking, and everything else an attacker could hope for. Again, you can find umpteen hundred similar examples with an online search. Security for just about every installation on Earth has been compromised - at least in part - by the readily available images.
Like it or not, this is part of the modern world. You can be sure that if this level of surveillance technology has been "allowed" to become mainstream, then there are other methods already in operation that would scare the socks off of you. One example that comes to mind is the proliferation of Unmanned Arial Vehicles ranging from the Predator to tiny little butterfly-size machines capable of flying either by remote control or autonomously to a target of interest and beaming back intelligence. News stories report that manufacturing cannot keep up with demand from military and law enforcement agencies.
Now, since I have hopefully convinced you that your privacy has been so utterly violated that nothing I could do from my computer could possibly do any harm, let me introduce you to a bit of Google Earth detective work that I have done myself. Below are screen captures of where Google Earth believes each of my RF Cafe advertisers is located. To arrive at their locations, I simply typed in their publically available street addresses. A few locations actually had Street View images that I was able to use to capture a photo of the building - usually with a shot of the sign showing the company name. In one or two cases, the Street View image was made prior to the company having moved into the building, and the previous company's sign is shown. When a company has provided a picture of its building on its website, I included it, too (I hope they don't mind).
I was a bit surprised to discover that a few companies appear to be private residences - like with RF Cafe! Now, it could be that the official mailing address is that of a residence, while the physical location is elsewhere. That is done sometimes for small businesses where the administrative functions for the company are done at home.
Coaxial Dynamics has taken the initiative to register its location on Google Earth (and Google Maps), so that it automatically appears in the list of locations in the nearby area. I just added RF Cafe. You might want to try doing that for your company... unless you have something to hide. Google Earth + Street Level Views of RF Cafe Advertisers (click to see all map locations) Digg It
- Kirt Blattenberger
RF Cafe Progenitor & Webmaster