Unblurred Google Satellite Images Is The Equivalent Of Yelling Fire?

from the say-what-now? dept

Earlier this month, we wrote about how a politician in California, Assemblyman Joel Anderson, was looking to force Google and other providers of online mapping/satellite offerings to blur images of schools, churches and government buildings. News.com ran an interview with Anderson, where he attempts to defend his proposed legislation as a matter of public safety. He claims that there is no good reason why anyone would need to clearly see these buildings online, and that it can only be used for bad purposes:

Who wants to know that level of detail? Bad people do.

Apparently, Anderson is the final determiner of what good people do and what bad people do with online maps. Then, when pushed on the fact that forcing companies to blur images of public locations might not pass constitutional muster, Anderson claimed that it was the equivalent of yelling fire:

But since when do you have a First Amendment right to yell fire? This falls under the same category.

I’m curious how that’s anywhere near the same category. One is deceiving a bunch of people with an alarming false statement, where the resulting response can put people in danger — and the other is an accurate representation of a building. Am I missing something?

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: google

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Unblurred Google Satellite Images Is The Equivalent Of Yelling Fire?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Fire in a Crowded Theatre

Not necessarily… See Fire in a Crowded Theater.

If you were aware of a fire, but shouted “Fire!” in a sarcastic way to not only avoid being believed, but also to pre-emptively reduce the credibility of any subsequent discoverers of the fire, then you would still be culpable for endangerment despite being literally truthful.

chris (profile) says:

wtf will blurring help?

if i was a terrorist with a bomb that was burning a hole in my pocket, wouldn’t it be super easy for me to find a good target by pulling up the google map for where i was standing and heading towards the nearest blurred out space?

why not make a neon sign that says “come blow this place up!”??

militaries often leave secret facilities off of maps, so the easiest way to locate the interesting places on a military installation is to walk around and see what’s not on the map.

interval says:

Re: wtf will blurring help?

If you were a “terrorist” (or whatever the plume-du-jur is) with a real, live, bomb to throw, blurring out a building image in google maps isn’t going to slow you down. Let not forget that both 9/11/01 & the Oklahoma City travesty happened before google maps was a gleam in Brin & Page’s eyes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: wtf will blurring help?

If you were a terrorist with a bomb burning a hole in your pocket you would just go to some random place with lots of people and set it off. Whether it is on Google Maps or not is irrelevant. This is a phantom issue drummed up by a publicity-hungry politician. For him to make this utterly moronic suggestion is tantamount to gratuitously shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. No gain vs. lots of loss to society.

Grow up and stop paying attention to nitwits.

Anonymous Poster says:

This is a giant crock of bullshit, and Anderson should be ashamed of himself for even thinking like this for a second.

Information, by itself, is not good or evil. And the pictures of these buildings are just information.

You want to stop the information from being used for evil? Don’t stop the flow of information, stop people from being evil.

It's up for debate. says:

Re: Re: Re:

either they were proving a point that preventing evil is impossible, hence the correlation between stopping info from spreading and stopping evil from spreading.

Or, they have a deeper meaning in their statement such as what Ron Paul mentioned back in the republican primaries. Basically, we should stop trying to fight against terrorism by taking away our freedoms and information, but instead, understand what caused the terrorism. Why were we attacked on 9/11, why would any country be so upset that they would kill themselves (and thousands of our innocent civilians) to make a point? We should go back to the root of the problem and solve it there. And in America’s case, it is proven that we are the root of our own problems.

So, that statement isn’t so crazy after all.

are u serious? says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

let’s look at America. We invaded Iraq to stop Saddam from killing his own people. But it is fact that we put him in power to fight and win against Iran, we gave him those weapons which he ended up using against his people. Now we have a problem with Iran because we backed their opponents and now Iran hates us because their country is split in 2.

Let’s look at the middle east as a whole. We have US Military bases on their home/holy land. Why? because we want to stop them from attacking us here, well, that’s pretty dumb, because we are pissing them off so much that they want to attack us here.

So, to stop “evil” is to stop ourselves from pissing them off. Not necessarily doing everything they ask, but hey, when they say they are pissed off about us building our own base on their “holy land” then we sure as hell better back off because nothing pisses off people more than taking a dump on the things they consider sacred.

How’s that suggestion for stopping evil?

Maybe if politicians started being more honest about why people are getting so pissed off that they would blow themselves up to destroy our landmarks then we can stop some evil by spreading a little honesty and love. But no, politicians generally don’t see past their brown noses and black souls.

Chief Petty Officer Obvious says:

You kind of have a point

I agree, blurring doesn’t help, which isn’t really the point. The point is that the exterior of those buildings exist in the public domain, so they can be photographed all you like. The matter of distance shouldn’t be a stipulation, public is public.

Military sites are completely different. They are military domain, not public domain. In addressing your point, yes a terrorist could look at the blurred military installation and say, “I want to go there,” for all the good it would do them. Civilians have attempted to do the same thing w/the blurred “area 51” and Vandenburg locations, and they don’t get very far.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:


You do have the right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, *if there is an actual fire!*

Unless the satellite picture is of a fictional building, I fail to see the connection.

Heck, if we’re worried about real dangers, how about GPS systems that direct people to take washed-out bridges? That’s at least in the ballpark of the analogy.

sam says:

Re: Jeebus

“Heck, if we’re worried about real dangers, how about GPS systems that direct people to take washed-out bridges? That’s at least in the ballpark of the analogy.”


People that drive over washed out bridges because a GPS told them to need to be culled out of society any way. They are diluting the gene pool.

Clueless says:

Don’t schools these days have some sort of security?
Think about it.. Censorship of any form should not be tolerated! Will ill-quipped politicians in the future moan about hi res images of banks, airports, or other governmental buildings from being blocked too? Then the only thing you’ll be able to see is your neighbor’s backyard..

Come on goober, get with the 21st century… If you can’t protect your schools or your public’s trust, don’t blame Google…

technically says:

Yelling fire is up to the establishement

Not being allowed to yell “fire” (when there is no fire) is up to the rules of that particular establishment. Basically, if I own a movie theater, it’s up to me to set the rule “you cannot yell fire if there is no fire” but if I don’t specify that, then my customers are allowed to yell “fire!”

Also, look at Disneyworld/land. You can get kicked out just for sitting around looking sad all day. But that’s up to them to set those rules. You might not be doing anything “wrong” but if that establishment does not want unhappy people, then by all means they are free to kick out who they please. (with exceptions of racism/sexism/sexual preference of course)

Also, this politician is an idiot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: California Sucks

I hate to say it, but, unfortunately, Californians elect California politicians. I mean, I’d like to blame it on the guys from Oregon or Arizona or somewhere, but it’s us, and I’m ashamed.

Go to any big metropolitan area in CA and just observe people, you’ll quickly get an idea as to why we elect such messed up people to our public offices.

GeneralEmergency (profile) says:

Oh here's a NOVEL IDEA...

When you have an unreasonable, uncivilized sworn enemy out there in the world who wants you dead for what-ever stupid simian reason their little whiskered heads can dream up, wade out there and get them first.

Stop trying to secure every last damn thing and place and just eliminate the problem at the source.

People who DO NOT recognize the rights of others to lead peaceful lives have not earned that right for themselves.

Ray says:

More post 9/11 boogeyman paranoia. If there isn’t a real threat out ther lets invent one. Fact is as others have pointed out, blurring only serves to clarify a target if someone is out looking for targets.

Following the Assemblyman’s reasoning shouldn’t we also blur out any public building’s address from the phone book? After all terrorists could use that information to actually find their way to the location!

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) says:

Take the bomb

So when Jack Bauer has a bomb that is going to explode he is going to say, “Look! There is an empty lot according to Google satellite. Take the bomb there…Oh crap, I just blew up a school full of kids!”

Joking aside. I work for a municipal owned electric utility. The other day I was talking on the phone with a property owner about some work that the utility needed to do. With the help of Google’s satellite and Streetview I was able to discuss certain landscaping issues we would have without having to actually meet her at the site, eliminating the need to drive the company car out to talk and saving time. I have done this numerous times with the public school system as well. Sure we have a GIS system with a flyover overlay image but the Google tools are so much better (and cheaper). Assemblyman Anderson, am I a bad person?

VanCardboardbox says:

You know who is really to blame?

Why blame poor innocent Google for the existence of targets when the blame should be laid at the feet of the traitors responsible: architects. So long as those diabolical bastards continue to design buildings that reflect light none of us are safe.

If a terrorist were to walk down my street he would be able to see every single building in full colour at a scale of 1:1. Scary, no?

Joemama says:

It's EXACTLY like yelling fire...

I think this idiot politician has a correct analogy, but not the way he thinks. After all, isn’t trying to scare people unnecessarily by saying we need to blur satellite images or we might all die tantamount to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater?

I’m getting more than a little tired of the politics of panic. It’s time to put the shoe on the other foot. If you continue to propose laws inhibiting our freedoms, not to mention ourpocketboks, you WILL lose your job.

Barry says:

Re: Re:

>>I look at schools my kids don’t attend all the time on google – to see where to park when I go to things like track meets, etc. Very handy.

Have to agree here. This guy obviously doesn’t have kids and does not use technology.

All the time for soccer games and things I look up the location of where a game is and where the field is in relation to where we’ll be parking.

Finding directions though is a ‘bad thing’ though I guess. I should go turn my self in I suppose.

brwyatt says:


You know what would be BETTER than using Google maps for selecting targets? Building your own UAV. Hell, there are entire websites just for building DIY drones… they even have open source software and mainboards for them. Hell, I think there is a group that sells mini MQ-1 Predator “clones” that can, in fact, carry 0.4lbs of imaging equipment and can use programable waypoints, hold orbital paterns all on their own… Can even fly for several hours at a time too. Oh, and are DIRT CHEAP. just a couple grand… that’s NOTHING for even the smallest terrorist group!

And we think blurring buidings makes them safer? Rofl… politicians make me laugh.

Superdude says:

I know when I have the constitutional right to yell fire, when there is a fire or other emergency. Infact we have always had that right. The thing with not yelling fire really means that you will be held accountable if someone gets hurt (physically) by what your saying, not what your saying. This guy needs to rub two brain cells together, maybe the spark he gets will make him realize that.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Blurring satellite images

Unless the law has changed dramatically since I passed the bar, you are dead right, Michael. Creating an immediate, clearly-defined threat to the public (yelling “fire” in a crowded place) is not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.
We could go a step further and argue that blurring images would impede emergency workers who need the information; while a terrorist can be depended on to visit a target site before attacking, and therefore wouldn’t care one way or the other.

Cyber-CIP says:

This article

And, will this proposed statute apply to International hosts and content stores:

– Googlemaps (of-USA) w/ server hosted in Mumbai ?
– Googlemaps server (of-USA) w/ hosted in Islamabad?
– Googlemaps server hosted in Tehran?
– Googlemaps server with imagery provided by satellites from foreign countries?

If you have read this far, you get my point 🙂
See http://official-new.com/earth/ for more information.

wat says:

Google Earth already obstructs detail from many sensitive areas. A good portion of Washington D.C. has the roofs of buildings “whited out” and take a look at the strange patterns overlayed on sensitive areas of Isreal, such as the entire city of Dimonia, where their reactor research is conducted. Zoom in, and you see a digitized chainlink pattern. I am sure there are more examples, but these are two that stand out. Google earth does have government intelligence connections. This is not tinfoil hat stuff, but rather the actual acknowledged history of google earth.

James says:


I’m not sure I follow the analogy, it’s so strained. The stereotypical yelling of “Fire!” in a theater is usually stated with the premise that the theater is NOT burning, but the resulting panic and stampede for the exits causes actual damage and injury.

Who’s yelling Fire here? What’s the consequent damage? I don’t agree with the politician at all. I love using Google Earth to wander the globe as a virtual tourist, and I don’t want to see its capabilities diminished, except as necessary for reasons of public security. Much as I disagree, however, he apparently believes honestly that there is a public danger here. That’s different from the theater scenario.

(Note to self: If I’m ever in a theater that actually is on fire, be sure to say, “Fire! No, really. Actual FIRE! This is not a discussion on the limits of free speech. FIRE!!!!!!!”

atheistlibertariancriminalasshole (profile) says:

yelling fire in a theater doesn’t endanger anyone. wait just listen, i’m not trolling. the idea is that if you inspire panic then you’ve endangered people. this may be true if you’ve inspired panic in a herd of cattle or buffalo that then stampedes toward people. but people have the ability and therefore the responsibility to react to danger w/o panicking. theaters have fire exits and max occupancy approved by the f.d. if there is a fire in the theater [or a fictitious threat of fire] then every one should be able to leave safely if they don’t panic. thing is, people want to be able to panic and trample their fellow theater goers to death w/o taking any responsibility for their own actions. and that’s where we get the idea that the death’s of the trampled are somehow the fault of the person yelling fire instead of the fault of the panicking sub-humans who stomped all over them while in such a rush to secure there own escape that they disregarded any sense of concern or compassion for their fellows. the whole thing is based in the kind of mind set which accepts the idea of controlling the mind of another; ‘he made them panic’ instead of an acceptance of personal responsibility for one’s own behavior; ‘i chose to panic’. one of the most freeing realizations a person can make in life is that you can only control yourself and therefore you cannot be responsible for the behavior of anyone else. the corollary, of course, is that no one can control you and no one else but you is to blame if you choose to act like a frightened buffalo and trample your fellow moviegoer to death.
that said, laws that require the editing of photos of things you can see walking down the street are censorship [and non effective anyway], and a guy who yells fire in a theater is a giant dickhead.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...