Dramatic advances in satellite imaging technology in the last 10 years have privacy advocates worried about 24-hour surveillance. Right now, US regulations keep things in check. Commercial satellite imagery is powerful enough to see a car, for example, but isn’t allowed to be detailed enough to identify the make and model, according to the MIT Technology Review. But innovations may soon skirt government rules.
Satellite companies say they keep a person’s data separate from any identifying characteristics, but Peter Martinez of the space advocacy group Secure World Foundation said that doesn’t matter.
“The risks arise not only from the satellite images themselves but the fusion of Earth observation data with other sources of data,” Martinez said in an email.
Then there’s the sheer volume of satellites overhead. Imaging company Planet Labs confirmed that it has 140 imaging satellites currently in orbit. That’s a significant chunk of the nearly 770 such satellites in total, according to MIT Technology Review. The report says that Planet Labs alone has enough satellites to pass over every place on Earth once a day.
“Even with Planet’s highest resolution imagery (1m resolution), it remains impossible to distinguish individual people, car number plates, or otherwise identifying information. Our imagery is ideal for monitoring large-scale change on a daily basis. This includes seeing daily change across buildings and roads, forests, in agriculture, bodies of water and more,” a spokesperson for Planet Labs said in an email.