Low-flying Cessna 172s, flying in grid patterns over major cities,
and snapping images of every square foot from just about every direction. They
are coming, according the AP’s Ben Dobbin in his article, “Aerial-Imaging
Becoming Indispensable Tool.” Indispensable to whom, Ben? Not me. Indispensable
to what sane, red-blooded, busy or even indolent American?
I don’t want to know what Your-Town, USA, looks like at a 40-degree angle
from a few thousand feet in the air, just for the hell of it. I’m not
a voyeur. I don’t get my kicks looking at fire hydrants in Chicago, lilac
trees in Rochester (or who’s behind one). Or, get this, The levees of
New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.
Hey honey, come here. Take a look at this old black lady drowning. Look at
these kids gasping for breath. And why, there’s a bag of crappy diapers
on top of the Superdome. Man, this is progress. Hey thanks Pictometry International
Corp of Henrietta, New York. That’s near the Rochester Institute of Technology,
where the company's chief tech officer, Stephen Schultz, as a computer science
student started developing this technology in the '90s. What a guy.
One hundred five people now work for this profitable company that’s ramping
up for a perennial doubling of sales no less that could top $100 million by
2008. Well, there’s the American Dream if I ever heard it. Build a better
mousetrap and catch more mice. Why Pictometry has been “showered with
calls from Wall Street this year about its potential plans to go public.”
In fact, if it wasn’t so pernicious, it would be ridiculous.
News of their weirdness reached me in an e-mail from a reader, just
Liz, who was freaked about those planes buzzing night and day over her neighborhood
in South Carolina. Well, toots, now you know. And guess what? Two Israeli companies,
Ofek and Idan (is that from the bible?), say they developed the same oblique-imaging
system (now there’s a euphemism for spying).
But Pictometry says they haven’t “delivered” outside
Israel, why the very country whose back-door spying sleights of hand were used
in our Promis software, sold to all our allies. And then they put in a Trojan
to spy on us. Never know once you start stuffing your nose in other’s
people’s places. In fact, so far (and this will probably come as a huge
surprise to you) Pictometry’s aerial images are “mostly used by
law enforcement and other government agencies.” What like Homeland Security,
the NSA, your local paranoid cops?
In fact, in Arlington County, Va., coincidentally the first county
mapped in 2001, firefighters, bless their hearts, were able to quickly size
up the damage when “terrorists” slammed a jetliner into the Pentagon.
Ho. Wait a minute. What, you mean Hani Hanjor, who couldn’t even fly a
Cessna? Or was it the remote-controlled version of the F77’s 757 or the
A-3 Skywarrior or the Global Hawk? What did they see? I and a bunch of 9/11
info-freaks would love to take a peek, just how quickly they sized up the damage,
removed the fuselage, body and/or baggage and all other crucial evidence, expanding
the size of the entry and exit holes.
I mean in if we’re playing sneak-a-peek, you show me yours and I’ll
you mine, evidence that is.
Why police in Atlanta used Pictometry software and photos to scope out the
layout of an apartment complex where suspected gunman Brian Nichols retreated
after a courthouse rampage in March 2005. So, we’re gonna have a chance
nip all that bad stuff in the bud, ey? In fact, “Images of New Orleans
taken in January 2004 gave searchers a better idea of what they were supposed
to be looking at after Katrina howled ashore and helped evacuated residents
decide whether or not to return home.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t help the president get off his butt and move
into action, or FEMA move its financially-paralyzed body, or the other stiffs
from the White House, down into reacting like a real government to the awful
disaster, the south’s 9/11. And it didn’t stop all those people
from drowning or losing their homes, their lives, everything they owned. I mean
who dreams this crap up? What ever happened to firing squads?
And guess what, Massachusetts, home of my beloved Berkshires, where I go to
hide in the summer, good old Massachusetts is the only entire state in the union
totally mapped so far. Isn’t that great? So property appraisers don’t
have to move their asses away from their desks and computers. Why they can just
click, pull out every swimming pool, rooftop deck built without a permit. Wowee,
ain’t that wonderful? Ain’t that progress? Ain’t that the
Why, that’s something to really celebrate this Fourth of July in the
state that gave birth to our independence as a nation.
The commercial sector took to the program like a bee to honey. In fact, no
less than Bill Gates hisself, Mr. Microsoft, had “already begun making
images available for free on a new maps site he is testing. Beginning this month,
under a five-year licensing deal with Microsoft, visitors will be able to order
Pictometry’s close-ups of individual homes for $3 each, sky’s the
limit, neighborhood-size tracts for $6 and square-mile panoramas for up to $25.
People can then take that high-resolution image to make prints and other items.”
Makes a helluva Christmas gift, aerial shot of your 'hood, nice and big over
And I don’t want to sound unpatriotic, but wouldn’t this be a good
tool for a "terrorist" (CIA guy?) if he was trying
to scope out the local atomic energy plant or ammo dump, national monument,
bridge, etcetera. Well, maybe that’s negative thinking. But like they
say in the New York City subway ad campaign, “If you see something, say
something,” so that’s what I’m doing. I see a pack of crackheads
behind a screen, planning the next attack. What’s more, the Pictometry
company wouldn’t talk about the terms of its deal with Micro-king, I mean,
You see, in this “new evolving ‘visual GPS’ category of online
mapping, the Microsoft partnership” could kick the butt off Google’s
Earth maps, which use satellite images. See what I mean? While satellite images
give you rooftops, and street-level images can come from vans, from Amazon.com
Inc.’s, A9 search service you can get mailboxes and the front door. And
Pictometry’s 40-degree-angle shots present tops and sides of building
as well. And you just never know when you or the president himself might need
that top or side of the building, entrances, exits, parked cars, garbage cans,
people sleeping in cartons. Eternal vigilance, that’s what democracy takes.
In fact, Pictometry’s marketing chief, Dante Pennacchia, said, “Once
you see ours, you know the difference. It’s day and night.” Night
and day, under the sight of you, day and night under the height of you. In the
roaring traffic’s boom, in the silence of my empty room, night and day,
day and night. Yeah, it’s just like the song.
Now despite what you may think, these fellas are no dummies. They know lots
of people like me won’t be comfortable with the notion that everything
we do in public is, as they say, “potentially surveillable by companies
they don’t know flying airplanes with this technology.” So spoke
Lee Tien, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San
Francisco. Ah but . . .
But the company said from the get-go, it set a zoom-in or “pixilation”
limit to prevent faces or license plates from being distinguishable. Well, that’s
a big load off my mind. But what if they change their mind? Then what about
the crease in my, er, never mind. I tell you this elevates spying to a whole
new level. In fact, the guys predict, “aerial images are bound to find
more and more uses in the broader consumer market.” The gift of a lifetime,
shots of houses of people you love and hate. How’s that Donny Deutsch?
Thinking out of the box? The bigggggggggggg idea.
Here, image this. Why, with photo-editing programs, “you could get a
sense for what it would be like if you painted your house a different color-
and how much you would really upset the homeowner’s association, analyst
Enderle said. Yeah, that’s been keeping me up nights for years now. That
and those bedbug "terrorists" (i.e. CIA) downloading
my summer rental or my New York apartment building. Or my kid’s school.
Ah, but look on the positive side. You too Liz, out there in South Carolina,
freaking as the planes buzz overhead night after night . . .
“As this goes forward, 10, 20, 30 years from now, this will be the way
you’d be able to go back and reminisce a bit better about the way things
were in your hometown.” You mean how they tore it down to build a Wal-Mart
Supercenter. How the old car factory’s a junkyard. And the bridge fell
down for lack of infrastructure money. And how all them Muslims are crowded
into this little bitty area behind the railroad tracks 'cause people were paranoid
about them. Yeah, that would be nostalgic. And how some cuckoo downloaded the
Statue of Liberty pix at a forty degree angle from 2,000 feet, rented a Cessna
and . . . nah I won’t even go there. How they know where you go, when
you go, how you go, morning, noon, and night. Because once you start clicking,
it's very hard to stop.
And sometimes people get just too damn smart for their own good. So good night,
America, wherever you are. And Happy Fourth of July. Those Cessnas overhead.
Break out the fireworks. Go ahead. Don’t wait till dark. And when you
see them, show them what you got.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in xxxxxxx. Reach
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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planes continue to circle over Lodi