Scale matters: Economic aspects of secrecy

15 Июня 2010
В СМИ (до 2012)
On May 26 the “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” newspaper published the article “Scale Matters: Economic Aspects of the Space Eye’s Excessive Secrecy”. The authors - ScanEx RDC Deputy General Director Olga Gershenzon and Ph.D. (Economics) RF State Duma Deputy Valery Zubov – told about the specifics and problems of working in Russia with remote sensing data.

"Several years ago Google posted the space images of many cities in the Internet, which show separate buildings, cars, trees and sometimes even people can be seen on these images. Such a detail level is typical for space images with the so-called sub-meter resolution. Certainly, Russian cities were not exceptions. At that time, according to the Russian legislation, such images were regarded as classified.

We can understand the feelings of military people, who were raised on the classification codes, such as “top secret” and “classified”, imprinted on all Russian maps starting at the 1:100 000 scale and all satellite images with spatial resolution better than two meters. However, the times when such a level of secrecy more or less helped protecting and disguising their secret targets have already gone for good. Today, several civil (not military – it’s very important!) space satellites deliver images of all the Earth at the sub-meter resolution every day.

Images of all the surface of our planet were taken during the American Space Shuttle mission, which enabled to get precise terrain maps of the entire world, including Russia. Any citizen on our planet, getting into the Internet, may without any control study any spot on our globe – both as detailed maps and raster images.

Probably, everybody would have felt much better, if such detailed information have not been so accessible, because anyone may make use of it, including terrorists. However the accessibility of satellite imagery data nowadays is an irreversible process!

Reasonable people from military circles have been long telling that in modern conditions all that outsiders should not see from space, must be securely masked.

Despite the dramatically changed situation on the market of spatial data, a lot of money is still wasted to support the system of secrecy, created long ago, with the cost for “declassification” exceeding the commercial cost of the image itself and respective agencies do their business on this! The paradox is that first the company selling space images gets them from abroad using Internet services as nowadays western operators are dominating on the market of such services. Then it puts the “classified” stamp on the image and sells it to the end-user as a classified image or declassifies it for an additional cost, if the end-user does not have the Classified Material Control Department in his organization.

Where does the state lose money in this process chain? Firstly, it loses on maintaining the classification mechanism. Secondly, on inflated price of the end-product, which in most cases is purchased for the needs of budgetary customers. Thirdly, this system of interrelations restricts the rights of those organizations and potential users, who do not have additional funds for declassification. This, in its turn, means that the following questions, for example, will never be resolved: development of municipal region planning, control of economic activities during the natural resources development, damage assessment as a result of forest fires and many more other tasks that could have been resolved only based on updated information from space about the region.

The second paradox is that the only Russian remote sensing satellite that has been created for ten year and that costs hundreds of millions dollars of the state budget, which is more or less comparable in its characteristics in resolution and performance with its foreign analogs, was inaccessible from the very beginning for the Russian customers, due to this very secrecy policy!

Even now the restrictions on handling this Russian satellite’s data, with regards to which a special governmental resolution has already been made, cause a legal mess with the already enacted decision to lift restrictions on the space imagery data. As for the companies, carrying out the reception and processing of such data, a license from Roskosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) is required and this agency can regulate only the activities with this Russian satellite, then the granted license authorizes to operate with data, which resolution is not better than two meters.

How can the work with foreign satellites be arranged then? Generally speaking we believe that the Russian agency cannot regulate the operations of foreign satellites, therefore these restrictions do not cover the data of foreign satellites. But this is our viewpoint. What will be the viewpoint of the tax authorities? This situation is very convenient to engage in unfair competition, when companies with big administration resources get a license with one wording, whereas other companies with no such resources get a license with a different wording.

All this leads to still another paradox that is in direct contradiction with the modern bearing of the country on the development of the “intelligent” economy. As licensing problems in sphere of remote sensing do not extend to only data reselling, then it turns out that science intensive companies contributing intellect and own money to the creation of the receiving centers’ infrastructure for direct reception of space data from foreign satellites inside the country lose to other companies engaged in just reselling business. Whereas direct data reception inside the country, based on the realization of great science-intensive potential, does not only simplify access to data, but results in considerably cheaper data for the end-users and reduces time required for managerial decision-making based on the analysis of data acquired from space”.

Source: Nezavisimaya Gazeta
Published: Geoconnexion (http://www.geoconnexion.com/geo_online_article/Scale-matters:-Economic-aspects-of-secrecy/372)

Все новости