We have looked at censorship of aerial imagery in Google Earth and even noted censorship of 3D imagery. However, censorship rarely extends to satellite imagery, as only the country in which the satellite imaging company is based really has much control over what is released. We believe Israel has their satellite imagery down-sampled to a lower resolution before it gets into Google Earth and Iraq and Afghanistan simply have not had any satellite imagery updates in the last few years. But most of the rest of the world gets uncensored satellite imagery and they can’t do a lot about it. In 2011, for example, we brought you a story about how Sweden was displeased that their censorship of their own mapping products was proving ineffective because of satellite imagery being uncensored.
Today we are looking at a couple of stories about North Korea. It is one of the most secretive regimes in the world, but there is little it can do about satellite imagery and the fact that it is freely available to much of the world via Google Earth.
The first story is this article from 38 North. The article makes good use of Google Earth imagery to monitor key sites related to Uranium mining and refining in North Korea. Google Earth has imagery from 2003 to 2014 for one location and 2004 to 2015 for the other. The article also features an image for one of the locations from Airbus Defence and Space that is not currently in Google Earth. Interestingly, one of the locations has an image from July 8th, 2015 that has been recently added to Google Earth. It is not yet in ‘historical imagery’ so it was likely added in the last week or so.
The second story is this one, which is about the replacement of statues of Kim Il Sung with statues featuring both Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il. Again, satellite imagery from Google Earth is used to good effect.
To find the locations mentioned in both stories download this KML file .
Although Google hasn’t updated any of its ‘imagery update’ maps since early June it is relatively easy to find updates using the historical imagery feature. You can spot changes visually as you move the timeslider or you can take screenshots of different dates and then compare them using an image editor. As you can see below, North Korea gets quite good coverage, with many locations having more frequent updates than many parts of Europe or the US. Europe and the US do have higher resolution aerial imagery, which we will not be seeing any time soon over North Korea.
Imagery updates for North Korea in Google Earth from May 2015 to date.
Note that there is some new imagery that is not yet in ‘historical imagery’ that is not shown in the above map.