How satellites can save--or ruin--your life

Tech Culture

The growing use of satellite technology among the masses, as evidenced by the mainstream popularity of , continues to raise concerns about privacy and security. At the same time, however, the technology is proving valuable in some unintended ways, such as fighting fires, , protecting domestic-violence victims and, most recently, aiding recovery from Hurricane Katrina.


To the security-conscious among us, perhaps most worrisome is that many of these uses are offshoots of systems created for government espionage or law enforcement surveillance--potentially raising the likelihood of such technologies falling into the wrong or unqualified hands. But the Katrina rescue effort is a classic example of how technology frequently evolves and is used in ways never envisioned by its inventors. Those who worked on the "Star Wars" satellite program in the 1980s, for example, say it yielded important research on alternative energy and other technologies that had nothing to do with national defense.

As more innovative satellite uses are discovered, it will be interesting to see what impact they will have--if any--on the long-running debates over privacy and security.

Blog community response:

"Google Earth is a spy satellite for the masses. Not only can you get the South Korean presidential compound Cheong Wa Dae, David at Jujuflop noted in the comments that you can get the Chinese Communist Party's well-guarded compound of Zhongnanhai."

"How else can al Qaeda in Iraq drive us out? Can they mount up against our armor and push them back into Saudi Arabia or Kuwait? Can they launch armed satellites to jam or destroy our recon birds? Of course not. The terrorists understand that the low-intensity combat in Iraq is not the primary arena of conflict."

"Satellites can record the level of oceans around the globe, while tide gauges are used to measure the height of water with respect to a fixed, nearby point on land. Oceanographers combine Hurricane Watch

"A large team of oceanographers is again exploring 'Lost City,' an hydrothermal vent field located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, which was discovered in 2000 and named like this because of the myth of Atlantis. But this time, the oceanographers are not on a ship. Thanks to satellites, the remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) Argus and Hercules can transmit videos back to Seattle in real time."
--Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends

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