Google limits resolution for sensitive Israeli sites
Understandings reached by Israel reduce its vulnerability to enlarged
satellite Internet photos of defense sites.
Ran Dagoni, Washington - Globes 22 Dec 05 15:32
Since Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) began offering satellite photographs of
locations everywhere in the world in April 2005, countries have feared
that high-resolution photographs of sensitive sites would expose their
weak points to terrorists.
Israeli sources told "Globes" that Israel was very sensitive to exposure
of strategic locations in satellite photographs. However, legal
restrictions in the US and understandings between Israel and other
countries are reducing Israel's vulnerability to enlarged photos of
locations liable to become targets of mega-terrorism.
An independent survey of the Google Earth site for satellite photographs
shows that the search engine limits the resolution for available photos
of Israel sites, whether strategic or civilian. This restriction does
not exist for photographs of sites in other countries.
Google offers satellite photos of eight locations in Israel: Jerusalem
(the most popular), Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Masada, the Dimona Nuclear
Research Center (DNRC), Sdot Micha (listed as a nuclear weapons base),
Lake Kinneret, and the Mizpe Ramon erosion crater.
All of Google's photos have a tool enabling users to increase photo
resolution and examine the site from close up. In photos of Israeli
locations, however, the resolution can be increased only up to a given
level, at which point an announcement appears: "We are sorry, but we
have no photographs at this resolution for this region." Other countries
do not have this privilege.
Google's photo database, which is revised every 18 months, comes from
various sources, and the level of resolution changes from one photo to
another. Some photos are sharp, others blurry.
The Kyl-Bingaman Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of
1997 bars US satellite broadcasting companies, such as Space Imaging,
from photographing Israeli sites at higher resolution than that provided
by non-US commercial companies. The amendment is designed to enable US
satellite companies to compete with companies outside the US, while
protecting Israel's security at the same time.
In order to fulfill the law, Space Imaging must lower the resolution of
its photograph of the DNRC taken from its Ikonos satellite from one
meters to two meters.
Russian company Sovinformsputnik is also unwilling to supply
high-resolution photographs of Israel. It is believed that Israel
persuaded Russia to prevent sales of photographs of sites in Israel
taken at resolution of less than two meters.