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The U.S. Capitol is Off-Limits to the Public: An Exploration of Censorship’s Perimeter
|| 3/25/2007 || 9:46 am || Comments Off on The U.S. Capitol is Off-Limits to the Public: An Exploration of Censorship’s Perimeter || ||

click image above to view my latest installment to the Lost Series


The United States Capitol is Off-Limits to the Public:
An Exploration of Censorship’s Perimeter

Shortly after the story was published I was contacted by an individual from the DC City Government’s GIS department. He offered to give me a DVD with the 2005 aerial photography of Washington, DC. However nice the gesture was (thank you!!!), I was unable to take him up on the offer because the imagery was compressed using the Mr.Sid format, which I cannot use due to it’s proprietary compression algorithm. Yet this meant that the imagery was now available.

Last night I decided to see if there had been any new imagery released from the USGS, and to my utter surprise, the 2005 aerial photography of Washington, DC had been released with no announcement! Moreover, it’s been released at .16 meters per pixel (about 6 inches square per pixel) which is 4 times more detailed than the 2002 imagery I’ve been using for the last 3 years!

Of course, the first place I downloaded was my house. Sadly, my NO WAR rooftop brickwork was not present because I didn’t design that until the summer of 2006. The next places I downloaded were the area around the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

When looking at the U.S. Capitol from the web browser’s interface, it appeared that the U.S. Capitol was not redacted like it had been in the 2002 data set (alongside the top of the White House and the entire U.S. Naval Observatory). But to my sheer disappointment, the Secret Service decided that the U.S. Capitol is still too sensitive for the general public to look at and it’s been pixilated again!

The impetus for the creation of this interactive environment is that using Google Maps one can zoom right into the U.S. Capitol without any redaction to the imagery. Yet private citizens, such as myself, cannot legally use that imagery because it’s owned by copyright holder (the entity who took the picture and licensed Google to use it) and it’s not in the public domain. Thus to view the most recent imagery of the home of democracy (minus DC residents) one must be a corporate entity or use one of their products (like Google Maps), or pay for it and not be allowed to make derivative creations. I find this to be downright absurd.

If corporations are legally citizens (that’s corporate personhood, which allows corporations to sue private individuals), why do they get access to sensitive information for dissemination, while private citizens, like myself, are forbidden? Therein lies the name of this interactive environment, “The U.S. Capitol is Off-Limits to the Public.” While the name is a subtle jab at Google, it’s also jab at the larger issue regarding the way corporations are able to pedal influence beyond the scope of private citizens. Or conversely, the U.S. Capitol is NOT Off-Limits to Corporations

To create this interactive environment I took the square around the U.S. Capitol and cut it into 4 strips (North, South, East, West) along the perimeter of redaction. I went along the line of censorship and cut out 800 x 800 sections that fell roughly 50% redacted and 50% visible. With some places overlapping, I created 35 different images that comprise the perimeter of the U.S. Capitol to that show the sharp contrast between the free exchange of geographic information and that which is too sensitive for private individuals to view.

The area in red (below) is the rough outline of where the imagery lies. Just click on the central image to randomly view the next place along the perimeter. You can easily tell which side of the Capitol the imagery is because pixilation is on the opposite side. As in a view of the north side of the Capitol will have the pixilation on the southern half, or if the pixilation is on the right side then you are looking at the west side of the perimeter, and so on. Of note is the shoddy job that was done to redact the southern portions of the Library of Congress’ James Madison Building and the Canon & Longworth buildings (if you are going to redact the buildings, make sure you redact THE ENTIRE building!)

Oh yeah, I can now say that I beat Google to perimeter of the U.S. Capitol because the imagery on Google Maps is from 2002 and this imagery is from 2005! :-) Originally, prior to finding out that the imagery had been redacted, I was quite excited about the idea of beating Google to the U.S. Capitol, hence my dissappointment and subsequent creation.

The background is a tessellation of the redacted dome of the U.S. Capitol.

Update – 7/22/07

While the NGIA sensorship was bad, when Google updated Washington, DC new imagery, most of the downtown area was not updated, probably because of the redaction of the Capitol, White House, and Washington Monument.

Read the Washington Post article I orchestrated to expose this, which is then referenced in Australia when it happened again.

Related Censorship Entries:

Post Title: The U.S. Capitol is Off-Limits to the Public: An Exploration of Censorship’s Perimeter
Posted in: Beat Google to the Map, Capital Hill, Censorship, Colonist, DC, Interactive, Lost, MrSID, Ward6

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Nikolas Schiller is a second-class American citizen living in America's last colony, Washington, DC. This blog is my on-line repository of what I have created or found on-line since May of 2004. If you have any questions or comments, please contact:

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