by Radu Botez

Confirming the existence of a place mentioned in a testimony can be of crucial importance for an asylum claim. Besides Google Maps, there are a number of mapping services that can help with identifying locations, especially through their street-view feature. Some of the services below also provide photos taken by users at specific locations, which could be useful when street-view imagery is not available.

  • Bing Maps: Not fundamentally different from Google Maps, but quality of satellite imagery may be better at times.
  • Yandex Maps: The mapping service of Russia’s primary search engine provide good imagery for locations in Russia and the CIS region. The street-view options covers areas not covered by Google.
  • Panoramia: Not a mapping service per se, this is a photo sharing website that shows geo-tagged images from around the world and can be useful in locations not captured by street view. As geotags are not always accurate, it is probably worth trying to corroborate any information found using other sources.
  • Yomapic: Along the same lines of the above, this tool shows images from the Russian social network VKontakte.
  • FlickrMap: Displays Flickr images on a map.
  • OpenStreetMap and Wikimapia are both collaborative mapping platforms.

Google and Yandex Maps as well as other mapping services provide imagery in decent quality. However, for high-resolution satellite imagery, it is useful to download Google Earth. You can use the pro version for free and here is a useful tutorial for getting start to use it for open source investigations.

Besides supporting geolocation, satellite imagery has been used in the past to investigate and document human rights abuses. This article from the The Guardian provides a good overview. Google Earth allows you to retrieve historical satellite imagery, which has been used by organisations to demonstrate destruction during conflicts.

Further resources

First Draft News, a coalition of experts providing tips on handling eyewitness media, has a few useful guides on this topic.

The investigative research network Bellingcat provides a guide on geolocation and other techniques.