Is Google's new real-time flight data in Google Earth a gift to terrorists?

Is Google's new real-time flight data in Google Earth a gift to terrorists?

Summary: I don't know. Hopefully, it's not the kind of thing that you don't know, until you know. You know?

TOPICS: Security, Google

Sometimes I just don't know. On one hand, I'm amazed at the information we all have at our fingertips. On the other hand, I'm appalled at the information we all have at our fingertips.

The subject of today's security angst is Google's announcement that you can now get almost-real-time flight data and tracking in Google Earth.

Before I tell you my worries, let me clarify what almost real-time means. Basically, everything is delayed about 20 minutes. If it looks like Flight 222 is over the Mississippi right now, it actually passed over the Mississippi 20 minutes ago.

So now you know the conflict. Obviously, if the data was accurate and absolutely real-time, it'd be kinda scary.

But, since the data isn't real-time, it's probably been neutered of any potential threat. Sure, there's still flight path information provided, and math is still math, but, well, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up a little.

Is this new feature a cool novelty that'll help kids everywhere see just about where Dad is on his way home to San Mateo from Worcester? Or are there more sinister possibilities?

I don't know. Hopefully, it's not the kind of thing that you don't know, until you know. You know?

What do you think? Share your raging paranoid delusions below.

Topics: Security, Google


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • The FAA...

    has provided flight data for a long time, and there are multiple places where you can already track flights with maps--in fact, my family uses it to track when a relative is coming into town, so they know when to leave home to go to the airport. This is nothing new.
    • RE: Is Google's new real-time flight data in Google Earth a gift to terrorists?

      That's what I was thinking too. I use some of the flight trackers for the same reason, it lets you know if there are delays in flights. No point in leaving early and paying for parking if your going to sit around for 2 hours if the flight is delayed.
      Loverock Davidson
  • RE: Is Google's new real-time flight data in Google Earth a gift to terrorists?

    A crowbar can be used for something good and for something bad. Does that mean it should be banned?
    • So can a pencil in the right hands.

  • give it a rest

    I am so tired of things being waved around as something terrorists can use. Here's a clue for you: EVERYTHING can be used by terrorists. Stop with the fear-mongering and the pointless bureaucracy in the name of terrorism. Do away with the idiotic TSA and their "security theatre" and let us get on with our lives, and give articles like this one a rest.
    • A-MEN!!!!


      Really... oooo! the boogie man is gonna get you! I am sick to death of "terror terror terror.." the real terrorists are the idiots constantly trying to scare the crap out of everyone, so they can gain more power and destroy freedom.

      <i>The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.</i>
      ~ H. L. Mencken
    • Don't confuse raising awareness with pointless bureaucracy...

      or even law, for that matter.

      There's a whole lot of difference in educating ourselves and passing legislation like the patriot act. But, to take the stance you suggest would only put us back at square one.
    • Who's afraid of the big bad wolf

      Long ago there were three pigs
      Little handsome piggy-wigs
      For the big, bad very big very bad wolf
      They didn't give three figs

      You are so right. Did you know, that a wheelbarrow serves perfectly in impassable areas as a transporting device for terrorists ammunition supply, but wheelbarrows are not subject to the Arms Export Control Act. I don't understand this carelessness.
  • As the other poster noted, this has been available for quite some time. In

    any case, they can figure out the flight paths in many other ways. How about a guy on board with a GPS and internet. He can give you a real-time update to within seconds.
  • It starts getting scary when ...

    they start linking people's info on board of those planes. As if you know who's on board a plane at any given moment.<br><br>On the other hand, if such were the case and folks would know that Steve Jobs was aboard a plane, the big question is whether or not he will have his ninja stars with him.
  • RE: Is Google's new real-time flight data in Google Earth a gift to terrorists?

    No more so than it has ever been; haven't you ever used the "old" existing services?
    Go to my local international airport rght here and you can get actual take-off tme, predicted landing time, and average speed in knots (taking into account weather, direction, etc etc) of any flight in or out. It even taps into some of the public areas of the FAA site at a keyclck if I want to see what the other end of the flight is sayiing. That's a little, uh, more accurate than yours, don't you think? And if my airport does it, you can bet your butt others are doing it.
    Then again, there's always the drive there, sit down and write it all down; in and out in a few minutes.
    Let's stop closing the minds of the paranoids and miscreants that are going to grab onto this as armegeddon and move on to something else whle you go get yourself some education on the matter please?
  • Next time...

    How's about writing on a topic that matters? This is old stuff. Just because Google has joined the party doesn't make it new, or news.
  • A gift to terrorists? No more than the Internet is.

    And far less than a cellphone is.

    In any case, why would terrorists be interested in the flight paths of aircraft? That makes no sense. It's not as if terrorists can shoot a plane down while it's at cruising altitude, so I'm sure where this fear is coming from.
    • Agreed, but...

      I agree that there are plenty of technologies available to any would-be terrorist. However your comment "It's not as if terrorists can shoot a plane down while it's at cruising altitude" - are you SURE about this? Do you know how easy or hard it is to get a missle capable of shooting down aircraft? And at what heights are the aircraft "safe" or "vulnerable"? I don't mean my questions unkindly, nor do I wish to dabble in the "let's all panic about what terrorists can do with everyday tech" - it is, however, worth bearing in mind that it is entirely POSSIBLE that terrorists are capable of many things: but either choose not to, choose to do it later or elsewhere, change their minds, get caught or prevented etc etc. Probably just as well we don't know what goes on in darkened rooms around the world...
  • RE: Is Google's new real-time flight data in Google Earth a gift to terrorists?

    Maybe they will now know where to put up anti air stuff. Thing is, they already know where planes fly routinely if you look hard enough, even visually. If this service didn't exist, and terrorists wants it bad enough, they will always find a way. This may make it easier for them, but I think finding data like this is not the hardest part, but obtaining the offensive equipment, money and being secret.
  • RE: Is Google's new real-time flight data in Google Earth a gift to terrori

    At least the Fed don't have to waste time getting a court order to find out who is on what flight and where they are now. Besides, if things get dicy all fight information can be erroneous.
  • Much ado about nothing

    Hype. I'm more worried about the government using these commercial products to spy on its citizens - discovering pools, sheds, etc. and assessing residents.
  • be fearful

    of folks like me ... white, middle-upper class, college educated, above average IQ, close to middle age all-american and yet still non-descript. I can pass thru society unnoticed. The missing ingredient in this volatile mix is religion. No bearded sky fairies promising rewards in my head. Drive by your neighborhood "holy" houses on Sunday. You should be fearful of those folks. They're living for what's next, not what's now.
    nw trout
  • You've got it 180

    The data must get out for us to remain safe. It's essential for planning safe flights and safe events. Real time data doesn't help terrorists AT ALL. They aren't walking down the street, suddenly going crazy and breaking the glass on a conveniently handy emergency stinger missile placed there in the event of a Soviet Invasion, and desperately searching for a target on their Droid.
  • This is a STUPID article.

    As most people have already stated. This info and capability has being available from years. You can monitor any flight from the official website of any mayor airline.

    Google is just adding the feature to one of their most popular tools. I don't see how that is in any way "a gift to terrorists".