Why is Jerusalem blurry on Google Maps?

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

Joshua Dance

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Update 2021 — still blurry but US is loosening the restrictions so could become more clear soon.

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.

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.

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…

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Joshua Dance

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