Mapping sensitive sites

Posted by ABZ_OSM on 8 July 2020 in English (English).

I’d be interested in your thoughts on mapping sensitive sites.

What do we do when we visit a location and unbeknown to us, a large site we are welcome at houses within it a large sensitive site that locals don’t want to talk about.

On such an occasion a fairly innocent question is “Hi, what is that right in front of us?”

It turned out to be, as far as I could gather, a chemicals plant, regarded as strategic, in a fairly unstable region.

I’m fairly sure some of my OSM edits, on that occasion, outlining that chemical plant, with polygon sattelite image traces, were deleted, though how locals would connect “Hi, what is that over there” to OSM I do not know. Perhaps I innocently mentioned OSM at the time.

Comment from Sanderd17 on 9 July 2020 at 11:07

As far as I know, the OpenStreetMap foundation is registered in the UK, so follows UK laws. These are quite liberal when it comes to freedom of information. Mapping such a facility would most likely fall under freedom of information, and thus would be fine for OSM.

Generally, if a government wants to prevent something from being mapped. They can easily ban all air traffic over the facility to ensure no imagery can be taken, and ban people from coming too close.

But when mapping, you have to take local legislation into account too though. A famous example is China, where all GPS based mapping is legaly forbidden. So while OSM doesn’t care about Chinese law, local mappers in China should be careful when mapping.

And for some things it’s just not nice or moral to map those. Some features should remain hidden, like hidden camp sites. Or a more extreme example: a refuge place for violated women should definately not be on the map.

So it’s your call as a mapper to decide whether it’s legal, or moral.

Comment from ABZ_OSM on 9 July 2020 at 11:35

That is an interesting response thank you.

I see you are in West Flanders, and as I reply I am remembering being in the shallows just off Ostende in a yacht in a gale. Shallows anywhere in heavy weather are not plesant.

Ostende itself was a very plesant experience. I’d certianly return.

Regards the ‘chemical plant’ which I think was later removed, I will leave things as they stand. Anyone who looks at the sattelite trace, at that location, or any other, can immediateley see which features / buildings are missing.

I had previously not thought about the moral aspect of mapping locations of refuge, becasue I have not yet knowingly mapped an area containing one.

It’s quite a thought though, even here in Scotland, that a building we innocently map, only with the intention of ‘filling up the map’ may contain a refuge.

Thankfully here, a refuge is generally well managed.

However in un-stabile locations and regions I agree, this would need careful thought.

I have not yet made any contributions to though I can see sensitivity would certianly / potentially be a consideration in making contributions such as refuges, etc.

Comment from Sanderd17 on 9 July 2020 at 11:48

I’ve never been to Scotland, the closest I got was around Manchester.

Anyway, if you map it accidently, it’s probably not an issue. What I was talking about were refuge houses like these: (you may need to translate it)

Those are just houses somewhere in the city, but their location is secret. You only get to know the address when there’s a threat of domestic violence. If you happen to get to know one of these houses, it obviously wouldn’t be appreciated if you put it on a map. And it’s not about mapping the house and address, it’s about tagging it as a refuge that shouldn’t be done (in this case).

It’s completely different from something that can be seen from aerial imagery. Even a decent image recognition algorithm could deduce there’s an industrial site on that photo. And when it isn’t mapped, it may be even more suspicious to foreign powers…

Comment from ABZ_OSM on 9 July 2020 at 13:29

There would be no reason to know such an address unless working for Social services in which case the obligation to discretion is both professional and obvious.

It is very unfortunate that there are people who need refuge services.

Yes, purposefully mapping such a place, intended as a discrete location, would be nefarious.

Comment from ABZ_OSM on 9 July 2020 at 13:31


Comment from Adamant1 on 12 July 2020 at 13:35

I you have to separate mapping from mapping in descriptive detail. They aren’t really the same thing. Like in your chemicals plant example, if you only map basic things like the buildings and roads it’s extremely doubtful anyone would know it was a chemical plant. You can’t really tell those details from basic geometries.

It is useful to map that stuff for trip planning and navigation though. Since if nothing is mapped or just basic it risks people going through the area to their own detriment because they don’t know the area is off limits. At least if basic things are mapped you can add access restrictions and similar things. Just don’t put “This is a chemicals plant” in the description and you should be fine. I doubt anyone is using OSM for nefarious purposes anyway. Even if someone is, it’s not really the mappers job IMO to factor it into how we map.

Otherwise, you could second guess almost every edit you do. I’ve done it myself a few times. “Should I really add this remote cabin and it’s driveway to the map?”, “is someone going to target this house if I map their swimming pool and tennis court”, “should I really be mapping dumpsters behind businesses so homeless people will know where they are?” etc etc. It’s an endless thing once you allow yourself to go there. Sometimes I even worry about mapping playgrounds.

Just map. The moral arch of OSM bends towards everything being mapped eventually anyway.

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