Norwegian security authorities, backed by the country’s defense minister, have blocked plans by US computer and communications giant Apple to take special aerial photos over Oslo. The photos would be used to make new three-dimensional maps for use on Apple’s iPhones and iPads, but the authorities fear such photos could jeopardize security in areas that need “special protection.”
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Monday that while Apple has been allowed to take aerial photos for use on 3D maps of both Stockholm and Copenhagen, among other major cities, Norway’s national security agency NSM (Nasjonal sikkerhetsmyndighet) has put its foot down.
“We don’t want to allow photographs with such a high degree of precision that they can be exploited to map areas that need special protection,” Øyvind Mandt of NSM told Aftenposten. “Photos with this degree of detail can reveal knowledge about security measures that we don’t want to be made accessible.”
There are several areas around Oslo that are considered especially sensitive and thus off-limits to photographers. The military’s own headquarters for its intelligence unit known as Etterretningstjenesten, or E-tjenesten, is among them, where severe photo restrictions already are in place at the unit’s compound near Lutvann on Oslo’s east side.
The US Embassy in Oslo, always concerned about its own security, nonetheless took up Apple’s cause and reportedly appealed to Norwegian authorities to relent on the matter. Embassy officials, who told Aftenposten that it’s part of the embassy’s job to further American business interests abroad, contacted Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang who in turn wrote a letter to Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen on the US’ and Apple’s behalf. Stang asked her to reevaluate the aerial photo ban, while noting that Apple had received permission to take such photos in most western capitals.
Stang told Aftenposten that he thinks 3D maps such as those Apple is keen to produce since it stopped using Google’s map service are “very exciting and relevant for tourists, both those who are here and those who are considering a trip.” Stang said he had therefore asked the defense minister “to look at possibilities for making this work, at the same time we take care of security measures that those other than myself must evaluate.”
In her response to Stang, the defense minister pointed to NSM’s evaluation and supported it. Mandt of NSM couldn’t answer why Oslo has more security concerns than the other Scandinavian capitals, but noted that security practices vary from country to country. Mandt also said that Apple’s aerial photos, which would be taken from several different angles and put together for the 3D map, would have a much higher degree of resolution than the satellite photos used by Google.
Norwegian authorities had no authority to block use of Google’s satellite photos because they’re taken from space, nor did their relative lack of high resolution present the same security concerns. Aftenposten reported that its request for comment on the issue from Apple went unanswered.