Sweden’s Lantmäteriverket, the state GIS agency, has been caught camouflaging its censorship of the country’s spy headquarters on aerial images it makes public, and Google Maps is directly responsible for the find.
It started when Eniro, a mainstream search and mapping site for Sweden, decided to use Lantmäteriverket’s images to add aerial shots and hybrid maps to its mapping service, much like Google Maps does. A publication eventually noticed that the aerial data provided by Eniro and Google don’t match in a special spot on the outskirts of Stockholm. Here is Eniro’s image:
What’s even more absurd is that Eniro’s mapping service actually has the roads and buildings, so the hybrid image looks like this:
(Incidentally, Google Maps and Google Earth don’t have the same dataset for this location — Google Earth’s has a random cloud covering the crucial spot.)
It turns out that Lantmäteriverket employs a person whose job it is to camouflage its censorship by painting over buildings with trees and fields. The story made it to Sweden’s lagest tabloid on Thursday in mangled form (of course), as blogged by Patrick Strang (in Swedish). Strang also rightly points out that the only effect of such camouflaging, where you are lied to about the true information content of a map, is to distrust all maps by the same source, in this case Lantmäteriverket. It makes these maps less than useless, especially when Google Maps and Earth is around. And it is behaviour unbefitting an open society. If you need to censor something, fine, but don’t hide the decision. That way lies 1984.
Another interesting tidbit: The agency said it does not have a problem with Google’s images, as they are satellite-based, and hence outside the jurisdiction of Sweden, whereas the images it can censor are taken from planes that fly within its jurisdiction. Countries do indeed have a monopoly on sovereignty in the air, and not in space.
(Early datasets for Google Earth also used images of the White House where censoriship by a US agency was camouflaged, as blogged here.)