Dutch media pursued (in Dutch) the Google Earth censorship story today, and were told by Google what we already know — that it is the data providers who censor content at the behest of their governments, not Google.
In this case, the data provider is AeroData, a Belgian firm that has just recently completed a country-wide aerial survey of the Netherlands. Because AeroData had to get a permit from the Dutch government to do overflights for aerial photography, a Dutch law from 1959 permits the Military Intelligence and Security Service (Wikipedia: MIVD) to pore over the data and decide if “vital” buildings deserve to be censored. Clearly it found some.
Censorship turns out to be is a risk when you use aerial photography. In Sweden, too, aerial photography is governed by censorship laws, whereas satellite imagery is considered to be out the legal jurisdiction of the country. For satellite imagery, the risk of censorship is slightly different: Space imaging companies need launch permits for their satellites — for American companies, this means submitting to US government restrictions.
Ironically, back in August 2005 two Dutch politicians asked the government to investigate the risks posed by Google Earth in a time of terrorism, and were told then that such an investigation would be unnecessary as the information is available elsewhere on the internet. This view was reiterated today by the General Intelligence and Security Service (Wikipedia: AIVD, not to be confused with the MIVD), whose job it is to inform the government on security issues. Quote from the end of the Dutch article:
In a reaction to [Emerce's blog post], an AIVD spokesperson said that the censorship was not done at its behest. “We’ve said before that the importance of these images is not that great.”
Perhaps it’s time for the Dutch government to rein in some of its more zealous security personnel?