RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — On New York’s Long Island, it’s used to prevent drownings. In Greece, it’s a tool to help solve a financial crisis. Municipalities update property assessment rolls and other government data with it. Some in law enforcement use it to supplement reconnaissance of crime suspects.
High-tech eyes in the sky – from satellite imagery to sophisticated aerial photography that maps entire communities – are being employed in creative new ways by government officials, a trend that civil libertarians and others fear are eroding privacy rights.
“As technology advances, we have to revisit questions about what is and what is not private information,” said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology.
Online services like Google and Bing give users very detailed images of practically any location on the planet. Though some images are months old, they make it possible for someone sitting in a living room in Brooklyn to look in on folks in Dublin or Prague, or even down the street in Flatbush.
Sean Walter, an attorney and first-term town supervisor in Riverhead, N.Y., insists he is a staunch defender of privacy rights and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.