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Google Super Spy Eye-in-the-Sky: Total Information Awareness

Sep 10, 20104 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Google as Pentagon contractor for most powerful spy satellite, becomes super spy eye-in-the-sky.

In setting up an action/thriller movie, let’s picture mass biometric and CCTV surveillance and tracking technology that is stored in a massive computer database, holding personal information of every person in the United States. Stored personal information would include e-mails, credit card records, phone calls, GPS records, medical records, and social network analysis–all of which could be collected without a search warrant. This information would be analyzed for suspicious activities and connections between people. Enemy of the State was very much like that scenario while also using satellite images for spying and technology that could see into buildings. It made a great movie, but what if this were not a movie scenario? Post 9-11, DARPA proposed this exact scenario and called it Total Information Awareness. People freaked out and the program was dropped, mostly.

If you think about it, Google has been accused of becoming Big Brother and has almost all the same information on people as was being collected for the Total Information Awareness program. Google has your email, your web history, your location history, your social network connections, and your health records. Google didn’t need a search warrant either, but it does have a history of funding the same startups as government agencies. We also know that Google’s CEO Schmidt stated that no anonymity is the future of the web. Google, with Google Maps and GeoEye-1, is the Super Spy eye in the sky.

Another secret spy agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) provides aerial satellite imagery and mapping, as well as imagery intelligence and analysis to civilian and military officials at the other spy agencies and the Pentagon. NGA likes Google so much that its original announcement to award a sole-source contract to Google for geospatial visualization services stated, “Google is the only source that can meet the Government’s requirement.” According to NextGov, NGA later tweaked the wording, but made it clear that only Google Earth met its requirements, which included “compatible capability across networks, global access, unlimited processing and software licenses, and access to the Google Earth hosted content through widely used Open Geospatial Consortium service interfaces.” (Photo credit: GeoEye/ULA)

Microsoft had said Bing Map Server could do the job, but NGA said it had a “significant investment” in Google Earth technology, which runs both secret and top secret networks. Also according to NextGov, NGA added, “DoD and Intelligence Community have made additional investments to support client and application deployment and testing that use the existing Google Earth services provided by NGA.”

Fox News pointed out, “The satellite mapping galaxy is not vast. Google Earth came into being only after Google’s 2004 acquisition of Keyhole, a company that was in part funded by In-Q-Tel, the venture capital firm run by the CIA.”

NGA’s “sole source,” or no-bid contract, posted on should not come as a surprise. The MobileHornet reported in 2008 that Mark Brender, GeoEye’s vice president of communications and marketing, explained “Google’s partnership with GeoEye is exclusive, meaning the search-engine giant will be the only online mapping site using the satellite’s photos.” He added that GeoEye-2 would have a resolution of 25cm. That was an estimate made two years ago. 

GeoEye-2 will have amazing clarity and it will provide much more up-close-and-personal images than Google will show us due to government restrictions. But we don’t know what Google can actually see now with its mapping capabilities. By securing an exclusive deal for a better and more powerful GeoEye-2, Google has the power to be the Total Information Awareness program. Google does give out free software, products and services that keep people coming back. Yet with its continued “getting into bed” with U.S. Intelligence agencies, Google seems to have permanently traded in its “Don’t Be Evil” values. The Google of today has morphed into “Big Brother, Inc.”

Even if New York stopped spying via Google Maps to fine people for rogue swimming pools, it was not the first state to try such tactics. Pennsylvania tried to scare residents into paying state taxes. Google knows all our secrets and our preferences. Google is very possibly the biggest spy on this planet and is about to have super-duper eye-in-the-sky spying powers. Could we soon be monitored in similar ways as this parody? Could we soon face this sort of surveillance?

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.