Why Oslo Is Off-Limits to Apple’s Aerial Photographers

Apple’s taken plenty of flak for its mapping system, and some of it is well-deserved. After all, the maps have erroneously led drivers into the middle of nowhere and shown buildings that appear as though they’re melting.

Don’t blame Apple if its images of Oslo, Norway, aren’t crystal-clear, however. That one’s not on Apple.

Last week, Norway confirmed that it had denied Apple the license required to take aerial photographs of Norway’s capital of Oslo. Apple wanted to use the images for its mapping system, which does indeed contain aerial images of other Scandinavian capitals such as Copenhagen and Stockholm. Norway, however — citing security concerns — wouldn’t budge.

In this TechNewsWorld podcast, we discuss the story with the man who first broke it, Henning Carr Ekroll, a security reporter for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. Joining us from Oslo, Ekroll talks about some of the decades-old laws that informed Norway’s decision, the reaction from the U.S. Embassy and more.

Listen to the podcast (19:06 minutes).

Here are some excerpts from the podcast.

TechNewsWorld: I don’t know how much foreign coverage of this story you have read, but international media that have reported on this always reference Anders Breivik. I think most people know the story, but Breivik is a right-wing extremist who in 2011 murdered dozens of children at a youth camp in Norway after detonating a bomb outside government facilities in Oslo.

This was a really common theme in foreign coverage — that Norwegian authorities didn’t want Apple taking pictures because there was a fear that it could lead to another bombing or another terrorist attack. What’s interesting about your story, though, is that you emphasized that a lot less than the foreign media did. Do you think international media are making too much of the Breivik storyline? Or does this perhaps have something to do with that?

Ekroll: It’s correct on one side, because there has been a very large and difficult debate on security in general in Norway in the wake of 22 July, and that kind of relates to everything from how the police reacted and how the security, in terms of governmental offices, reacted. When it comes to Breivik and that bomb that went off in the governmental square in Oslo, the debate went to the fact that that street was not cordoned off, so it was actually possible to get that bomb car very close to the prime minister’s office with the consequences that had. And there has been a debate about public security in general, and part of this is how easy it should be to get access to information on governmental offices, also information on what kind of security measures are enforced in that area.

So, you can say this debate [about Apple] is part of this [security] debate, but I wouldn’t say that is the main reason Apple’s application was denied. I think that goes more in the general direction of, they want to keep these photos in Norwegian domestic companies’ hands. There have been other companies that have been licensed to take these photos in Oslo, but they are Norwegian companies and they [follow] Norwegian regulations, so the national security authorities are able to, for instance, have control over photos. And if they want to blacken out areas that are sensitive, they can do so.

So I think this is part of the debate, the 22 of July. The security debate we had after 22 of July also applies in this case, but I don’t think it was that that [caused] Apple to get a denial on this.

TechNewsWorld: You mentioned the U.S. Embassy a few minutes ago. I’m curious what the reaction has been from the embassy. We’ve seen U.S. government officials weigh in on international decisions that affect U.S. companies. So has there been much of a response at the diplomatic level? Or is this not quite as significant to the embassy in Norway?

Ekroll: I don’t think it’s probably on the very important diplomatic level, but I think it’s really interesting to see how this works in practice. Because Norway and the U.S. are allies — very strong allies, actually — and there has been this debate over surveillance, as you might know — everything that relates to the NSA and Snowden.

So in terms of that, it is interesting to see how the Norwegian authorities kind of set their foot down on this case, on photography of the Norwegian capital, which is probably not that interesting to many people all over the world because it’s a small capital, it’s a small city, and except for having a couple of office buildings — which all Western cities also have — there is nothing spectacular with it.

It’s interesting to see where this is on the level where the U.S. Embassy started to involve itself — that it was a story involving Apple — when there have been so many other controversies that relate to the U.S. authorities in general, both here in Norway and in other countries. So it’s interesting to see that this is actually the thing that the U.S. Embassy reacted to and engaged in the security debate in Norway.

TechNewsWorld: I wanted to ask you about the NSA, but I was afraid it was perhaps a ridiculous question. Do you think that the revelations about the United States data collection and snooping — do you think that played a role in this? Apple is of course an American company, and even if Norway trusts Apple, is there a chance that this is a way of expressing displeasure with U.S. policies? I know European countries have generally been much more upset about the NSA data collection than Americans have. Is this perhaps a little bit of gamesmanship on the part of Norway?

Ekroll: Well, it’s easy to think that way, but when you see the correspondence between the mayor of Oslo and the Ministry of Defense and the National Security Authority, it seems like it’s based not on politics, but rather on strict regulations when it comes to this. So I would guess that other companies, not American but French or UK companies, would also get a denial on an application like this.

David Vranicar is a freelance journalist and author ofThe Lost Graduation: Stepping off campus and into a crisis. You can check out hisECT News archive here, and you can email him at david[dot]vranicar[at]newsroom[dot]ectnews[dot]com.

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