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Google Among Sites Under Investigation In China For Illegal Mapping

The Chinese government's concern may have been heightened by an image of a new naval base that appeared in magazines and online back in April.

The Chinese government is cracking down on illegal maps that threaten state security, according to a March report in China's People's Daily.

Agence France Press reported on Tuesday that Google and Chinese Internet companies Baidu and Sohu are among the organizations being investigated for possible map violations.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment and declined to verify the accuracy of reports about a map crackdown in China.

News of the Chinese government's desire to restrict the publication of online maps was first reported in late March. "Some Web sites publish sensitive or confidential geographical information, which might leak state secrets and threaten national security," said Min Yiren, deputy director of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM), according to People's Daily. Min estimated that about 10,000 sites show online maps in China, most of them without approval.

In 2007, the Chinese government passed a law restricting mapping and surveying by foreigners to protect national security, People's Daily said.

The Chinese government's concern may have been heightened by an image of a new naval base that appeared in Jane's Defense Weekly and on the Federation of American Scientists blog in April. The satellite image, purchased from DigitalGlobe (which provides Google with imagery), shows that a Chinese Jin-class ballistic missile submarine at a new base on Hainan Island on the South China Sea.

Min said that offending Web sites would be closed and that foreign organizations and individuals making and publishing online maps in China would be stopped, according to People's Daily.

Map violations include labeling Taiwan a country (the PRC considers Taiwan a renegade province), drawing national boundaries that differ from the way the Chinese government prescribes, or omitting islands that the Chinese government claims.

Presumably, Google Maps and Google Earth are being reviewed by Chinese government map authorities.

Google has in the past accommodated requests or demands from countries like France and the United States to change its map imagery. Given Google's stance that it must obey the law in countries where it operates, it seems likely that Google will make sure that the maps it offers in China conform to the Chinese government's view of the world.

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