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.
Satellite companies say they keep a person’s data separate from any identifying characteristics, but Peter Martinez of the Secure World Foundation told MIT Technology Review that doesn’t matter. Martinez said satellites don’t need to recognize faces to identify someone if they can combine the images with data streams from sources like GPS, security cameras and social media posts.
Then there’s the sheer volume of satellites overhead. Imaging company Planet Labs alone, the report said, has 140 satellites, which is enough to pass over every place on Earth once a day.
Meanwhile, 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.
Peter Martinez, Planet Labs and Charlie Loyd didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.