Vice Adm. Robert Murrett, the Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) says that the U.S. government may need to restrict future access to certain aerial imagery. In the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the agency acquired all rights to images of Afghanistan, making relief efforts difficult. The NGA has said in the past that it doesn't plan to take such steps again, but Murrett is new, having been in the position only since last summer, and his comments seem to indicate a change in direction.
This is all complicated by a somewhat incestuous relationship between NGA and two commercial satellite imagery firms, Digital Globe and Geoeye, which will launch new satellites with higher resolution capabilities this year -- with the help of $1 billion in funding from NGA. Government regulations will require that the firms degrade the imagery to 0.5 meters per pixel.
Degradation, such as the pixelated photo of the U.S. Capitol building, above, may indeed be necessary. But degradation also impacts the capabilities of private industry and relief agencies. And in the long run, international companies will make imagery available that NGA will not be able to control.
What does this have to do with GPS? Well, aerial imagery is coming; witness the DeLorme PN-20 and Lowrance iWAY 600C. One-half meter per pixel is okay, but the imagery providers can do better, if they are allowed.
One closing housekeeping note -- with this post, I've added a new category on aerial imagery. I've gone back and re-categorized earlier, relevant posts.