This week we talked about remote sensing in the sense of aerial photography and the underlying surveillance aspect associating with it. Those beautiful white and black pictures of landscapes immediately reminded of those gigantic global mapping services nowadays, such as Google Maps. It only took a century for those images to move out of the galleries, and enter into the reaching scope of average households. One can take a look at the exact image of the city on the other side of the earth just by going onto the internet. These services have brought the world closer together than ever. Yet, besides the tremendous of amount of connivence followed with the advancement, they also incurred many negative influences as well as ethical problems on the society.
Since most of the pictures that were contributing to global mapping were mostly taken without the pre-knowledge and the consent of the people who were being photographed, the activity of mapping itself held a strong component of surveillance. Among the events that had been recorded, many of them could be considered private or sensitive, meaning that they were not suitable to be seen by the public. However, these photographs were again posted to the open internet without careful handling, let alone the acknowledgment of the people that were being captured. The result was a series of irreversible harm done to not only these involving parties, but also thousand of innocent viewers.
For example, in the recent news, Google Maps’ satellite was found to have captured a crime scene of the murder of a four-year-old that had taken place in August, 2009. It had showed “Kevin’s body, a police patrol car and what appear to be police officers examining the scene…”. The crime was never solved. Even though Google claimed to take unusual step to remove the image as soon as possible, the picture had already brought the brokenhearted memory back to the family and once again traumatized them.
Another could be more influential example was reported by New York Post, titling “Did Google Maps capture a drug deal in action?” The image was discovered by a former drug user who accidentally came up with the idea of checking the old dope spot on Google Maps. With too much information included, such as the drug dealer and the trade location, it was almost like an arrow, pointing right towards the location and person the drug users should seek to.
However, in some occasions, the surveillance function of remote sensing also brought people hope. On July 2011, two robbers had broken into a suburban Oklahoma City house and held the owner at gunpoint. The case was not solved for the coming 3 years until the neighbor of the victim has found the image of the two men on Google Maps that had been taken moments before their crime. Even though their faces had been made obscure due to “the grainy quality of the image and Google’s software that automatically blurs pedestrians”, the occurrence of the image still raised a gleam of hope for this unsolved case.
Even though it was widely shared that “the idea of infinite vision is an illusion”, technology has already brought us as close to infinity as possible. There is no turning back with the expansion of human race’s thirst for curiosity and power. So how should we handle the un-situated views and the readily available excess knowledge? Should we conceal them or utilize them? And with so much information being exposed, how, in the future, will we live, with so little things that could still be kept in secret?
— Xi Wang
(Some more images if you are interested)