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#1: On France's answer to Google Earth, the white zone is for loadingobfuscation

Posted on 2006-07-06 12:19:09 by caltrop

Times Online July 04, 2006

French answer to Google Earth crashes after launch

By Charles Bremner, of The Times, in Paris
<a href=",,20411-2255953,00.html" target="_blank">,,20411-2255953 ,00.html</a>

Millions of French internet users are zooming in on aerial views of
their holiday houses with a new state web service, but not Jacques Chirac.

The Château de Bity, a country home in the Corrèze that the President
rarely visits, is blanked out, along with the surrounding village.

Dozens of large blanks fleck the landscape of France on Geoportail,
the state-financed bird’s-eye view of France that M Chirac opened with
a mouse-click ten days ago as a French alternative to Google Earth.
The white zones, totalling hundreds of square kilometres, cover a
secret list of sites that the state deems sensitive under a 1973 law
that bans their photography.

These include the harbours of Toulon and Brest, as well as power
stations, government buildings and certain factories. So many no-look
zones litter western Brittany, with the Brest naval base, aerodromes
and other sites, that French bloggers have renamed it “Emmenthal
country”, after the cheese with holes.

Yet all are visible on Google’s satellite views. Some, such as Toulon
and the Avord air force base, have the high resolution that Geoportail
offers for the rest of France.

“French law requires us to hide sensitive sites for national defence,”
Bertrand Lévy, the director of the National Geographical Institute,
which runs the site, told The Times today. “We have just been
authorised to blur these zones rather than hide them, which is better.
Obviously, one can wonder about the point of blurring zones if they
appear on other sites but we are a public service and have to obey the

At the request of the US Government, Google blurs detail on a few
American locations, including the residence of Dick Cheney, the
Vice-President, but not the White House. India, Israel and other
states have also put pressure on Google to hide sites that could be
valuable to enemies or terrorists, but nowhere have so many zones
simply been blanked out as on Geoportail’s France.

The site,, has been a runaway success, with its base
of 400,000 aerial photographs covering the non-sensitive parts of the
country, showing everything down to the size of a manhole cover.
France’s overseas territories in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and
the Pacific are also included.

In contrast, the American sites focus on French cities and tourist
sites, giving astonishing views of the Eiffel Tower and the
Mont-Saint-Michel abbey in Normandy, but leaving la France profonde as
a low-resolution blur.

The French site, which is free, offers a detailed ordnance survey map
that overlays the aerial shots. It is adding a 3D “fly-over” feature
in the autumn, and will soon offer dense cover of state facilities,
such as schools, tax-offices, town halls and unemployment benefit
centres. The idea is that Geoportail observes the Gallic tradition of
equality of public service, meaning that villages are supposed to be
as well taken care of as big towns.

The site crashed the moment that M Chirac opened it, and it was jammed
with 20 million attempted connections for the first three days. It has
become available, in a shaky way, this week, with half a million
visits a day. The service, run by the equivalent of the British
Ordnance Survey at a cost of £4.8 million, is the fruit of M Chirac’s
campaign to promote French and European alternatives to what he sees
as US digital hegemony.

“It is also about democracy, because our citizens have the right to
know all the facts about the environment,” M Chirac said when he
opened Geoportail.

The French National Library has put more than 80,000 books and
newspaper articles online this year on a portal called Gallica, in
response to Google Book, and M Chirac has launched plans for a
Franco-German search engine to rival Yahoo! and Google. He was also
the driving force behind Galileo, Europe’s £3 billion project for a
satellite navigation network, scheduled to open by 2010, that will end
dependence of the US military’s global positioning system (GPS).

M Chirac’s push to digitalise French heritage has included the opening
last spring of a free online access to the archives of the National
Audiovisual Institute, which has stored all television and radio
broadcasts from the public networks since the 1940s.

M Chirac has also launched a French international 24-hour news network
that has a mission to present a Gallic view of the world that
contrasts with the “Anglo-Saxon slant” of CNN and the BBC.

Yesterday, the French service, which is to go on air in December, was
officially named France-24. Until now it has been known as CFII (la
Chaîne Française d’Information Internationale) or CNN à la française.

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