Dodgy CCTV journalism and map clampdown

Leaking state secrets?

A story was published this morning on the China Economy website titled "Seven government departments rectify geographical information market: more than a thousand problem websites dealt with".

The seven departments are the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, Ministry of Industry and Information, Ministry of State Security, General Administration of Press and Publications, State Secrets Bureau, General Staff Department of Surveying and the Mapping Bureau.

They investigated 41,670 websites, found problems with 3,686 of them, "rectified" more than 1,000 and shut down more than 200.

The CCTV program 'Topics in Focus' (焦点访谈), ever happy to attack Internet companies, especially Google, participated in the purge by airing a program last night showing how a Chinese blogger was "revealing state secrets" by writing annotations on Google Earth.

In the program segment titled 'Beware of Internet maps revealing state secrets' linked below, journalists appear to ask the blogger, identified as 'Xiao Long' about his online activities. Although they pixelize his face, they show his webpage, and it's not hard to figure out that the blogger in question is none other than William Long of the Moon Blog, which Danwei has linked to many times in the past. His blog has a Google Earth section where he compiles and links to various interesting things on Google Earth.

The program did not name Google at first, saying that Long had linked to a "a foreign Internet map search engine", but if you look at the footage, you can see a big Google logo. Google Earth is mentioned later in the segment.

Long says he was tricked into appearing on the program. This is translated from a short message he posted to Google Buzz:

In the morning of May 6, the Shenzhen City Planning Department and phoned me to go for an investigation. When I arrived, I found there journalists video-taping. I asked them who they worked for but they did not answer. I asked other people present why they were taping, and the answer was they were making a record of the proceedings. They said my website was suspected of being involved in a file on Google Earth about "China's National Military Secrets". They demanded that I made a self-examination, delete everything on my website connected with "National military secrets" and they gave me a 5,000 yuan fine and a statement of punishment. 

Afterwards, a female journalist continued to ask me questions. From beginning to end, they did not divulge that they were from the 'Topics in Focus' program on CCTV. If I knew that, I would have refused to answer questions because it's obvious they want to make trumped up charges against Google.

In CCAV's explanation [CCAV is a mocking way Chinese Internet users refer to CCTV, conflating its name with AV, is an abbreviation for Adult Video], I went from being born in the 1970s to the 1980s, my blog about IT turned into a military fan blog, my forum with less than 30 visitors a day turned into a favorite website that is frequently visited by military hobbysists.

In a word, I got played by CCAV.

Despite the authorities' best efforts inside China, it's hard to control Google Earth enthusiasts and it's easy to find all kinds of so-called sensitive information by searching for "kmz" files (one format Google Earth uses for maps and annotations made by users).

Do the mapping authorities really believe they can stop such information from being added to the Internet?

Probably not: if there is a rational reason for this purge, it's probably a way of making sure unauthorized vendors do not poach on the turf of government mandated providers of maps and GPS services. Giving CCTV another chance to give Google a little slap in the face is just an added bonus.

Update: By email, William Long informed us that he has not been made to pay the fine yet, and suspects that it may not be enforced.

Update 2: The China Daily has published an article on the clampdown that goes over much of the same ground as the CCTV and China Economy reports linked below: New rules for Net mapping. It includes a quote from an academic intended to make the map clampdown seem like normal behavior:

"That's quite normal for any country. No one would agree to put its own map information in other countries," said Li Zhilin, professor of the department of land surveying and geo-informatics at Polytechnic University of Hong Kong.

Perhaps professor Li should spend some time looking at what Americans upload to Google Earth, which is available to all other countries that do not block it.

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There are currently 12 Comments for Dodgy CCTV journalism and map clampdown.

Comments on Dodgy CCTV journalism and map clampdown

Oh yeah...The Dragon Awakes...China's Rise...China Will Dominate the World...China's Century.

Can't wait to see a 24hr, English language CCTV "international" news channel.

It's not exactly not a valid concern when you look at sites like this.

This would in effect get thousands of free analysis to looks at this sort of stuff.

(though the NK one is far more interesting to look at)

"The CCTV program 'Topics in Focus' (焦点访谈), ever happy to attack Internet companies, especially Google..."

Why are you so quick to steer this "attack" towards Google, when the program's intent was clearly to go after web forum operators such as the Moonlight Forum/The Eye of God that was forced to shut down for a time?

Thanks for this. A very good, and very disturbing, example of the dangerous coziness that often exists between journalists and the government/law enforcement in China. Who, I wonder was the Focus reporter?

David (CMP)

Good thing still works, but some of the source site are down. Now it's much harder to human flesh search that elusive aircraft carrier from sat. pictures

okay, you actually made me watch that episode of 焦点访谈. (link)

I really don't see any attack on google, it just described it's capabilities, and resolution of the sat. images. It warns against people from taking pictures of military sites and tags it on Google map. because they're effective spying for the "bad guys". Thus, they took down a bunch of forum, [including some of the best source forum for sites about Chinese military such as and] So where is this attack came from. Did people even watch the original episode before making judgments?

On a personal note, this latest round of site closing really sadden me. Since I really interested in military stuff, particularly the Chinese military. How the actual information release by the chinese gov't is almost nil in this area. Thus the cat and mouse game of picture taking, map tagging and plane/tank counting are often the only source of information. (against active disinformation of fake PSed pictures of course)
I knew this sort of thing won't continue forever. But I hope Chinese gov't won't go the open route, and release better information though official sources; as China won't get invaded anytime soon. But I guess they went with information black out as usual. Good thing cjdby is still online, but for how long.

> Why are you so quick to steer this "attack" towards Google

Because the tool that makes these kinds of sites possible is Google Earth, with the high-resolution satellite imagery it places within reach of anybody.

Rectification of website data is a global.

Intelligence data pulled from websites

Web sites pull intelligence data

"Before September 11, you could have visited the Federation of American Scientists' Web site for diagrams and photos of US intelligence facilities. You could have gone to another Web site and learned of gatherings at North Dakota's Minot Air Force Base. And you could have gone online and ordered maps of military installations. No longer.

Concerned they could be aiding terrorists, some government and private Web sites have decided to stop sharing quite so much potentially sensitive data.

Such measures would not prevent terrorists from turning to libraries or even other Web sites for information that could be useful in attacks.

"But that is not a justification for publishing it in easily accessible ways. Let them work for it," said Steven Aftergood, senior research analyst at the scientists' group.

The private organisation removed from the Web its research containing locations, building layouts and aerial images of intelligence offices, some unacknowledged by the US government. Also removed were details on nuclear sites abroad."


"The removed or restricted materials represent only a tiny piece of what is available on the Internet, but First Amendment advocates are worried this is only the beginning.

"It's a fine balance that must be struck here, but in wartime, the temptation is always to greater censorship rather than less," said Adam Powell, vice-president for technology and programmes at the Freedom Forum."

It's a fine balance everywhere.

And what exactly is the "dodgy" part of CCTV's journalism in this case? That they made videotapes without consent of the target person? Isn't that common practice for investigative journalism, which Topics in Focus is supposed to be conducting?


What's dodgy? Maybe getting all the facts wrong about the guy they interviewed without consent, such as his age, and what his website is about?

There are many opinions as to the purpose of journalism, but reporting facts is generally considered to be a good thing in the news media.

> Why are you so quick to steer this "attack" towards Google

Because the tool that makes these kinds of sites possible is Google Earth, with the high-resolution satellite imagery it places within reach of anybody.

>> The program didn't just mention Google, it used Yahoo/MS and other sites (possibly US military photots) that I couldn't identify as examples. Yet any mention of Google seems to trigger a defence reflex.

Looks like the Norwegian media had it in for Google on exactly the same issue.

"Norwegian military gets upset at Google Earth Community post" link

And so did India: link

"In 2005, for instance, Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam showed satellite and aerial photos of sensitive locations in his country -- pulled from the Internet -- at a conference of that country's police officers. He warned about the possible dangers that Google Earth and other "open-source intelligence" pose, especially for developing nations."

More recently, an Indian lawyer filed suit in an Indian court to stop ‘sensitive’ images from Google Earth: link

And the Australians are concerned:

"In Sydney, Australia, the operators of the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor complained last year [2005] that Google Earth increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack on their facility."

And the Brits:

"In the UK, officials in charge of nuclear plants have tried to block the availability of satellite photos of their facilities."

Also here: Brit Nuclear HQ on Google Earth

And the South Koreans:

"South Korean officials, representing another country in long-term near-war, have expressed concern that satellite photos of military installations and the presidential Blue House could offer informational aid to North Korea. The photos, they said, might even violate South Korean security laws."


What is interesting is that it the U.S. Government seems to be the only government around that can control what is photographed and provided to Google Earth:

"[If] the U.S. government wanted to censor the images, it has at least contractual authority.

"Under the terms of our license with NOAA," says GeoEye's Brender, referring to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "we can image anywhere in the world. And there is a provision that the U.S. government can interrupt commercial service." This protection, which involves closing the satellite's eye when it is tasked over certain areas, is sometimes called "shutter control."

But the U.S. government has never invoked shutter control against either GeoEye, which supplies Yahoo Maps (now in beta) and Microsoft Virtual Earth, or DigitalGlobe, a major provider to Google Earth. Instead, in at least one case, Uncle Sam took what might be called a free-market approach.

When the war in Afghanistan was starting in fall 2001, Brender says, the Pentagon bought up three months of exclusive rights to all of GeoEye's imagery of Afghanistan. In January 2002, when the government's exclusive licenses were up, all of those images were made available commercially."


"Some regard Washington as the final authority on satellite-imaging security. "If the U.S. government was deeply concerned, they would have imposed shutter control," GeoEye's Brender says. "I'm surprised -- and pleased," he adds, that they never have.

Google's executives believe that the U.S. has been even more explicit about the subject. The company has issued a statement saying that a Presidential Directive " ... established a policy that favors the public availability of commercial remote imaging data, on the ground that the benefits to the public vastly outweigh the potential risks."

"Presumably," says Pike of, "the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has made some assessment of this, when they did not impose shutter control over Afghanistan and Iraq."

This let-it-be attitude has fueled speculation that the photos online are not military grade, and therefore do not reveal information that only the military possesses or that is otherwise unavailable."


"One country, at least, is taking no chances. A 1997 U.S. law requires that imaging of Israel or the West Bank by American-licensed satellites be made available at no better than 2 meters per pixel resolution."

See: Does Google Earth Reveal Military Secrets?

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