3D imagery and aerial photography: Public access versus public safety and security
One of the recurring themes in The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data is that of open access: How and when spatial data is made publicly available. A recent report from BBC reporter Zoe Lleinman, highlighted the continuing problem of balancing the public interest in access to detailed mapping data for towns and cites versus concerns from government organisations with respect to security and public safety. Officials from Norway’s National Security Authority have refused permission for Apple to take aerial photographs of the capital city Oslo to create a 3D imagery layer that would include government buildings and restricted areas. Although the data Apple require can be sourced elsewhere (for example, from the Norwegian Mapping Authority), the authorities felt they would have no control over how data would be used if Apple were to acquire the data themselves. Other map companies have used 2D satellite imagery, which is not protected, for their mapping services.
Maintaining public safety, and national security, has long since ceased to be simply a matter of security barriers and guard dogs patrolling the perimeters of restricted areas; with increasingly easy to use web mapping services, access to detailed spatial information no longer requires a physical presence at the site. Terrorist events in Norway, and the targeting of government buildings, triggered a major debate about security and public access to such information. We discussed a similar problem with attempts to ban access to Google Earth data in India following the attacks in Mumbai in 2008. As the Norwegian and Indian authorities themselves acknowledge, there are many benefits to be gained from having access to detailed imagery, but developing effective data access policies, where information use is monitored, is an on-going challenge.