It’s been a few months since we’ve had a Google Earth censorship “eruption” so we were definitely overdue the one now underway near Canberra. As usual, the blame lies with the media.
Defence Headquarters Joint Operations Command wiped from Google Earth, begins the article in Australia’s Daily Telegraph and reprinted in local papers like Adelaide Now and the Herald Sun. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the buildings in question once were visible on Google Earth but now no longer. You’d be wrong. They never have been, and not because of censorship. Insinuates the article:
Google Earth’s images of the surrounding area were taken in 2008, but the Bungendore site itself is represented only by an image taken before October, 2006, when John Howard turned the first sod.
Actually, the region to the East of Canberra where the new HQ lies is a hodgepodge of different imagery. Canberra itself has some fine new aerial imagery from March 2008. Move East, however, and you get DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from October 2006. The region of the HQ is DigitalGlobe imagery from May 2005. Just to the South and East of it is DigitalGlobe imagery from October 2004. (You can tell by zooming in on the imagery and looking at the status bar at the bottom of the screen.)
Much as we’d all like to have the most recent imagery everywhere, that’s just not the case. And when sensitive areas fail to be covered by the very latest imagery out there, that does not constitute censorship. And that is the point the Google spokesperson tries to make to the reporter:
A Google spokesman said Defence had not insisted on the image’s removal, but it was “not unusual” for old images to be used if they had better resolution than fresh shots.
Imagine that, an outright denial from Google, and it just gets ignored because it gets in the way of a good story. And even if Defence had asked Google, Google wouldn’t have been under any obligation to help: A state’s jurisdiction does not extend into space, so no country’s government has a say over satellite imagery. (And no doubt that is why Australia didn’t bother asking.) Had the imagery been aerial, then Defence would have had the authority, but then it would have had to censor the imagery itself before releasing it to the public. That clearly didn’t happen here, as Google Earth’s attribution to DigitalGlobe shows.
BTW, here is the spot in question. Le Technoblog du LAC has the intel on the precise location of the new HQ:
And here it is on Google Maps/Earth: