I work with GIS every day. I talk to people about how when you give information a spatial component, the mind treats it differently. It interprets it in a geospatial context. Everything we do is relative to something and mostly everything we do exists in time and space. Therefore, when we interpret information in conjunction with time and space we can have some powerful interpretations. Too powerful, perhaps, for the Seattle Fire Department. John Eberly had a post here talking about just that.
Now the post is gone. Here's the slashdotting of that post and here's the Seattle PI article.
For those of us who make their living off the marrying of complex information and mapping, this is sort of a watershed event. What happened is this, the Seattle Fire Department used to have a near-real-time feed of calls made to the department. John Eberly took this feed and made a Googlemap mashup. Then, the SFD (or someone) decided that this was too much information and made the once near-real-time data feed into a jpg image.
So what we see here is the acknowledgement that non-map-based information is much harder for humans to process. That information provided as a list is benign, but information provided as a map is malignant.
The PI says:
Fire officials worry that visually displaying where fire crews are on an Internet map jeopardizes firefighters' safety and could make things easier if terrorists were planning an attack, Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick said.
"That's where the security issue comes in because it shows where all our resources are at one time on a map," Fitzpatrick said.
As an aside, if I were advising the seattle emergency community, I'd say take all real-time data off the site and provide only data up to 24 hours ago. John says that his map helps people plan their trips around emergencies - but there are different ways to do that. The Seattle Police Department and WSDOT provide information where incidents are blocking traffic that do not include information regarding the current locations of all police and fire personnel. I also find it highly unlikely that anyone would plan any trip and consult this web site first.
Yes, maps are very powerful and seeing the map probably put the fear into the Emergency Services Community - but I am telling you, I can create a bot that can read your jpg and then map that. The information drives the map. Killing the feed and keeping the information is not serving your purpose.