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ACM Opinion

How E-Maps Curtail Our Freedom

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Electronic maps are arguably the quintessential innovation of 20th-century cartography. Although a few academic cartographers accord the map mystical powers, it is merely a tool, useful for good, evil or both, which citizens can resist or constrain--up to a point. The question is not whether e-maps will restrict where we go and what we do, but to what extent.

What I call "restrictive cartography" is not in itself new. Property maps are at least as old as Roman times, and boundary maps no younger than kingdoms and nation states. What is new, however, is the substantial increase in both the number and diversity of restrictive maps. A comparison of mapping in 1900 and 2000 underscores my point.

Since 1900, we have used maps to exclude industry from residential neighbourhoods, ban new construction on floodplains, help delineate "historic" districts that constrain a homeowner's choice of paint colour or replacement windows, put limits on where and with what weapons we can hunt game, restrict travel by foreign diplomats and journalists, prevent sex offenders from living near schools and playgrounds, and keep aircraft a nautical mile away from a vice-president's weekend retreat.

From New Scientist
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