There are real-time spies in the sky.
The dramatic advances in satellite imaging technology
in the last 10 years have privacy advocates worried about 24-hour
surveillance. Right now, US federal regulations help keep things in
check, so that while commercial satellite
imagery is powerful enough, for instance, to see a car, it's not
detailed enough to identify the make and model, according to a report
from the MIT Technology Review.
companies say they keep a person's data separate from any identifying
characteristics, but Peter Martinez of the Secure World Foundation said that
risks arise not only from the satellite images themselves but the fusion of
Earth observation data with other sources of data," Martinez said in an
there's the sheer volume of satellites overhead. Imaging company Planet Labs
confirmed that it has 140 imaging satellites currently in orbit. The report
says this is enough to pass over every place on Earth once a day.
with Planet's highest resolution imagery (1m resolution), it remains impossible
to distinguish individual people, car number plates, or otherwise identifying
information. Our imagery is ideal for monitoring large-scale change on a daily
basis. This includes seeing daily change across buildings and roads, forests,
in agriculture, bodies of water and more," a spokesperson for Planet Labs
said in an email.
satellite imagery is getting closer to a level that investors and businesses
will want to exploit. The goal, Mapbox's Charlie Loyd told MIT Technology
Review, is to make a "living map" of Earth.
The publication points out that the observational satellites can do
good, too. They can help farmers monitor a crop's growth cycle,
geologists better examine rock textures, and human rights organizations
track refugee movement. And of course, other satellites do things like
helping meteorologists predict the weather and making our phones and televisions work.
published July 26.
July 29: Adds response from Planet Labs and Patrick Martinez.