Search giant Google has teamed up with a Brazilian Native American tribe to capture vivid images that could put pressure on the Brazilian government to stop illegal logging and mining operations in the rainforest.
Though the project is still in the planning stages for a remote area that doesn't even have Internet access yet, the tribe's chief and Google Inc. hope their unusual alliance will reduce illegal rainforest destruction where government enforcement is spotty at best.
Google Earth, which enables anyone who downloads its free software to see satellite images and maps of most of the world, is increasingly being called upon for humanitarian purposes by groups who see the technology's potential.
In another initiative unveiled this year, Google and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are calling attention to atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan. And last year, Google Earth joined forces with the United Nations Environmental Program to show users areas of environmental destruction, and with the Jane Goodall Institute to highlight its research on chimpanzees and African deforestation.
"At Google, we feel an obligation to help groups like this when it is so clear that our tools can make an important positive impact," spokeswoman Megan Quinn said.
Eventually, Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui envisions many of the 1,200 members of his Surui tribe using computers with satellite Internet connections and high-resolution images from Google Earth to police all corners of their 618,000-acre reservation.
They could then offer proof to authorities that the destruction is occurring and demand action, or possibly spook the loggers and miners away because they would know they are being monitored, said Surui, who uses his tribes' name as his last, like many Brazilian Indians.