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Why are prisons still visible on Google Maps, a year after the Minister of Justice asked for blurring?

In October 2018, Nicole Belloubet was forced to raise the tone in the media so that Google begins to blur the prisons on the satellite images of its Google Maps service.

A mediatization and then nothing. On October 9, 2018, Nicole Belloubet could not find “not normal”, that prisons “find themselves on the internet”. The Minister of Justice explicitly asked Google to blur aerial views of French prisons. This request came following the helicopter escape of Redoine Faïd in July of the same year. In his interview at RTLThe Keeper of the Seals was even prepared to meet with the leaders of the American firm to solve this problem. In October 2018, 51 prisons out of 89 in France were not blurred on Google Maps. A year later, 28 still are not. The true cell of Franceinfo's fake explains why.

Because the government no longer publicly presses on Google

Before publicly asking Google to blur the penitentiaries, Nicole Belloubet had written to the American firm, July 31, 2018. In August of the same year, a discussion phase had been started, says the Ministry of Justice. The web giant responded in writing on October 8, 2018, said the ministry. In this letter, Google committed to blur all penitentiaries by the beginning of December 2018 and return to the custody of the Seals within 30 days, the report said.

In the process, Nicole Belloubet asked on RTL, October 9, 2018, Google to blur aerial views of prisons. A interministerial decree was even taken, on October 12, 2018, fixing a list of areas prohibited to aerial photography. Google blurred during that time dozens of prisons. But since then, exchanges have stopped and Google has not returned to the Ministry of Justice.

Also concerned by the question of blurring, the Ministry of the Armies indicates, on October 22, that“a job is in progress” at the interministerial level “for a coherence of the regulation with the technological evolutions of this domain”. But since the last decree of March 2019 on areas prohibited to shooting in France and the Overseas, only 14 military or prison sites have been blurred. There are still 67 non-blurred on the 255 covered by the decree. Since this media episode of October 2018, the Ministry of Justice has not relaunched Google.

Because Google officially advances technical complexities

On October 16, 2018, a spokesman for Google France had explained to AFP that Google Earth and Google Maps aggregate images “which come from various external suppliers, public or private”. A year later, on October 21, 2019, a Google Maps spokesman always makes the same point: “We are working with our suppliers to make satellite and aerial images available and up-to-date as soon as possible – this is a continuous and complex job.” In October 2018, Google committed to blur the prisons by December 2018. The firm no longer wants to advance date.

“As soon as we receive lots of images updated by our suppliers, says Google Maps spokesman we publish them as soon as possible. ” The ball is still sent back to the service provider's camp. If the North American provider DigitalGlobe is not “not able to comment”, Airbus, via its satellite imaging division, replies that “Google has not expressed any demand for sensitive sites”. The European company, based in the suburbs of Toulouse, explains “images on the whole world that Google integrates on its platforms, except for areas subject to explicit restriction issued by the French administrative authority”. Google for its part says it is doing everything possible.

Because the regulations do not concern images taken from space

On October 9, 2018, Youssef Badr, then spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice, declared at Figaro one “interdepartmental work” was in progress. He was aiming “to formulate proposals for the evolution of the legal framework governing aerial photography (…) whether in aerobic space or in outer space”. A Order of 3 March 2019 sets a list of prohibited areas for aerial photography by camera, film or any other sensor. However, this decree does not concern outer space, and therefore satellite photos.

In France, the law relating to space operations of 3 June 2008 defines a specific framework, but it only applies to French companies and “to operators, whatever their nationality,” who proceeded “the launch of a space object from the national territory”. For the rest, a 1986 resolution issued by the General Assembly of the United Nations is authentic. It establishes freedom of observation from space, “which includes the right to collect images”explains Philippe Achilleas, professor of law at Paris-Sud University.

States such as France have only one solution: to sign friendship treaties with the countries where the companies providing the images are based. For example, there is a friendship treaty linking France and the United States in this area. “Government can ask Americans to enforce shutter control for shutter rights”says the director of the Institute of Space Law and Telecommunications (Idest). This is particularly the case during French military operations abroad. Diplomatic relations between countries are therefore important. This probably explains why the Russian search engine Yandex offers an unfloured satellite view of 80 of the 89 French sites referenced in the decree of March 3, 2019. Moreover, this search engine sometimes has the same image providers as Google.

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