The BBC has published a few articles this summer about advancements in satellite imaging and its applications that hold promise for the future. The first article, found here, concerns a company called PlanetLabs. PlanetLabs is a Silicon Valley start-up that makes shoe-box-sized satellites called “cubesats.” It has 28 satellites currently in orbit, and plans to release 131 in the next year. The satellites are relatively inexpensive, and with so many in orbit, human rights activists will be able to monitor areas much for efficiently and effectively. Critics say that the proliferation of satellites may open up a Pandora’s Box. The imagery may be used for corporate espionage or gaining more control over an insurgency movement. Nevertheless, PlanetLabs intends to give geospatial imagery to NGOs for humanitarian purposes.

The second article, found here, is about a US Government decision to lift restriction on higher-resolution satellite images. Until now, corporations could not take satellite images in which features smaller than 50 cm were visible. DigitalGlobe, a geospatial technology company based in Longmont, Colorado, applied to the US Department of Commerce to lift the restrictions. DigitalGlobe plans to put satellites in orbit with the capability of taking images in which features as small as 31 cm are visible. The company hopes that the images can be used to help agriculture and disaster relief. Some critics have cited concerns for privacy and national security as a result of the decision.

The last article I would like to discuss, found here, concerns a joint effort between DigitalGlobe and The Nature Conservancy to track threatening invasive plant species in Hawaii. Plants like the Australian tree fern use up water supplies in native Hawaiian forests, threatening the native flora. The images of the forests, provided by Resources Mapping, were put on a platform in which web users can search for and identify the invasive species. The platform, which has some built-in quality control, has already seen activity from thousands of users marking the locations of invasive species.

Now that more satellites are put into orbit, higher resolution geospatial imagery is allowed, and more people are interested in geospatial monitoring, the future of human rights monitoring seems very promising. One issue that is bound to attract significant discussion because of these advancements is that of privacy. How far will regulation and oversight of geospatial imagery go? What will the restrictions on geospatial imagery be? Where is the line drawn for violation of privacy? We will certainly here some of these questions discussed in the near future.


Articles Cited:

Mini-satellites send high-definition views of Earth

US lifts restrictions on more detailed satellite images

Web users join hunt for Hawaii tree invaders