Dutch censorship: Update

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?

2 thoughts on “Dutch censorship: Update”

  1. Just a few questions that arise again..

    Well, I met again with Aerodata on a Dutch seminar from Oracle on ‘3D Topography’ just yesterday. Aerodata sold much of the beautiful new dutch Aeral photography material, including an extraodinary 5cm resolution (!) of good neighbourghoods “Wassenaar”.

    They explained that the business relation to Google would not be disclosed. All the same, someone at Royalty level (AIVD?) would choose to typically blur out certain private residences – so it ends up you can find them quicker than others by just scanning for blurred spots in the area. This is helpfull when you need to know what’s hot.

    He said that protecting the areas is subject to many changes over time and that certain areas were just blurred last week, to reappear later this week and vis-versa. People somewhere are busy on a daily basis to see if the stuff gets warm or cold. Some people blur for a business.

    Simiraly several GIS professionals complained about new area’s showing physical (geographical) evidence that they were taken over 3 years before! So they were shocked back in time.

    At the end, the present GIS community agreed to call Google Earth a Hype – which, I’m not sure yet, is not necessarily a bad thing either.

    What they mean though is that the medium lacks quality integrity altogether, to be seriously used by the Public Sector.

    So why should areas not be disclosed when the data is of dynamic, inexact nature and not trustworthy anyway?

    Well, import your trusted ground overlay sources and 3D layers (3D topography and the like)and use GE as a powerfull (if rough) vehicle, not as an end-station.

    Later, I had to agree with Aerodata on the dilemna whether it is absolutely necessary to show the available 5 cm high res photography of your neighbourg (be a governor or peasant)to the world.

    Isn’t that streching the technology a bit too far where it is actually not necessarily useful? Which public is it serving, to count the number of tiles on my roof?

    So why not just be happy about, say, a 30 cm high resolution photography, for everybody regardless (this is very high as it is). So everybody is happy. Of course Public sector, Governement and Police would keep the 5 cm High res to their advantage – because the material is just there to be used.

    But then again, when the ‘officials’ have it, it is likely that the vilains will get it soon (when they do not have beter information already). So why should’nt everybody have access to it all the same?

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