Looking at my referrer logs this morning, I notice I'm getting a lot of hits out of India on my Google Earth archive. I had a quick look at CNN to see what was up. This is what's up:
Here is my response, originally written for inclusion in an article for the February 16th issue of Nature. (Our article was published, though this passage ended up on the cutting room floor.)
While there are occasional media articles about Google Earth having military applications, governmental and private military sources interviewed for this article said that they found Google Earth useful for the same reasons everyone else does, but that for military applications, Google Earth has a number of important limitations, chief among these, the freshness of the images and their lack of date stamp. Activities such as nuclear interdiction, and monitoring drug trafficking or troop positions require access to current satellite and aerial photography as well as a munificent budget for purchasing current imagery from private sources.
The tool of choice for the US military and for private military contractors under contract to the US government, for example, is Georgia Tech's FalconView, which is more sophisticated than Google Earth in its ability to incorporate data from such sources as Predator drones in something approaching realtime. In summary, despite Internet rumors to the contrary, Google Earth is not a military grade tool.
There was also a piece of email circulating on the Internet making false claims about military applications of Google Earth which, as nearly as I can tell, was bogus.
On the other hand, Google Earth can be successfully used to assist with disaster relief. I direct your attention both to my Hurricane Katrina archive and my Pakistan Earthquake archive. In both cases, the existence of tools like Google Earth allowed spontaneous and effective responses by volunteers, using digital cartography to provide support for releif efforts and to meet the needs of individuals seeking information.
Let the world help.