Why is Jerusalem blurry on Google Maps?

1997 law makes it harder to sell high res imagery, but that could soon be revised

My cousin is traveling to Jerusalem and asked for the best places to go. I lived there for 4 months so I happily wrote up a list. As I was trying to find a certain hotel that served awesome lemonade I zoomed all the way into Google Maps and found… it was totally blurry?

That didn’t make sense, so I reloaded the page, no change. I then started googling and found that all of Israel is intentionally blurry.

This is Google Maps all the way zoomed into another important cultural site, the Topkapi Palace in Turkey which I also visited in that same time. The resolution is about 50 ft to an inch. You can see a lot of detail.

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And this is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The resolution is half at 100 ft to an inch, but worse, it is intentionally blurred out.

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Why is Israel blurred in Google Maps?

“Turns out, it is Congress. In 1997, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, one section of which is titled, “Prohibition on collection and release of detailed satellite imagery relating to Israel.” The amendment, known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment, calls for a federal agency, the NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs, to regulate the dissemination of zoomed-in images of Israel.”

“The amendment prohibits US satellite imagery companies from selling pictures that are “more detailed or precise than satellite imagery of Israel that is available from commercial sources.”

In practice, “commercial sources” has been interpreted to mean companies outside of the US that up until recently were not major players in the multi-billion dollar space industry.

However proceedings of an NOAA advisory council over the past year show that the body’s Commercial Remote Sensory Regulatory Affairs office received evidence from two US companies that high resolution images of Israel are now widely available, triggering a long-overdue review into the enforcement of the Kyl-Bingaman amendment.

“NOAA is currently undergoing [a review of the evidence], and once that is complete, if the review is favorable and it is determined that the imagery is available, then NOAA will being issuing license requests to image at the highest commercially available resolution or coarser,” minutes from a meeting last year state.”

I tried to find these 2 US companies that offer higher resolution images but was unable to.

Zoom Earth allows you to zoom in further, but has the same blur.

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European Space Agency (ESA) has even worse resolution.

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I love Jerusalem and hope that the application of the law is soon revised so we can get high quality Google Map images of Jerusalem.


Google Maps

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Code, design, cook. Make stuff. Cookies. @BYU grad.

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