Restrictions on geographic data in South Korea

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South Korean geographic data and information is subject to several regulations which severely restrict its reuse. The South Korean government defends the restrictions on the grounds of national security. A number of international critics argue that it constitutes a form of protectionism and a trade barrier.

Legal situation[edit]

South Korean geographic data is subject to several restrictions due to laws such as the Geospatial Information Management Act [ko] (also known as the Act on Construction and Management of Spatial Information). Article 16, Paragraph 1 of that law prohibits state-led survey data from crossing the physical boundaries of Korea. Another related legislation is the Article 26 of the Security Regulations on National Spatial Information that states that the aerial photographs containing the national security and military facilities should not be open to the public.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]


The legal restrictions have led to poorer performance of international platforms such as Google Maps or Apple Maps in South Korea. In 2016 and in 2023, Google and Apple respectively were denied mapping data, which therefore cannot offer real time or precise directions for their apps, impacting various services (including games like Pokémon Go, and more basic functionality such as driving or walking directions).[1][2][3][4][5][6][8] The South Korean government has repeatedly justified this policy on the basis of national security, citing the threat of North Korea and specific security concerns such as the danger of unblurred satellite imagery of domestic military facilities, although a number of observers have also noted that the current situation is a form of protectionism that benefits local Korean competitors of international services (such as Naver, Kakao, or Daum, which provide their own map services).[1][2][3][4][9][7][8][10]

Korean law and implementation has been called a trade barrier. United States trade representatives suggested that it infringes on the KORUS FTA between the countries, which in theory does not allow for discrimination between domestic and imported digital products.[7][8][11] On the other hand, it has been argued that the extra burden forced on domestic companies which have to implement censorship can reduce the quality of services offered and therefore their competitiveness.[7]

These legal concerns have led to self-censorship in South Korean media, prompting arguments that it hurts the ability of Koreans to judge the veracity of claims of North Korean propaganda regarding the South Korean military.[12]

The argument about national security has been criticized due to the fact that comparison between internationally available satellite imagery and South-Korean-government approved censored one can actually facilitate identification of military objects that presumably should be hidden, making them more, not less, vulnerable. Further, some of the objects classified as military facilities and censored have little realistic military value, such as military-affiliated golf courses.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c KIM, IN-KYOUNG; SEO, JI-EUN (2023-03-06). "Apple request for detailed Korean mapping data rejected". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  2. ^ a b c Cheng, Jonathan (2016-05-17). "Google Challenges South Korea Over Mapping Restrictions". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  3. ^ a b c Han, Jay Jiwook (2021-12-07). "Can I Use Google Maps in Korea? Which Navigation Apps in Korea are best?". IVisitKorea. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  4. ^ a b c "Why South Korea refuses to share mapping data with Google". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  5. ^ a b Yoon, Julia (2018). "South Korean Data Localization: Shaped by Conflict". The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.
  6. ^ a b KH디지털2 (2016-08-10). "Controversy persists in Korea over restrictions on Google Maps". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 2023-10-09.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ a b c d e Um, Dan-Bi (October 2022). "Legal Evaluation for Security Exception Claims About the Cross-Border Transfer of the Korean Map: A Case of Google". Social Science Computer Review. 40 (5): 1114–1132. doi:10.1177/0894439321998058. ISSN 0894-4393. S2CID 233711102.
  8. ^ a b c Fairchild, Keshia Badalge, Cullen (2018-02-26). "One thing North Korea has that the South doesn't: Google Maps". Asia Times. Retrieved 2023-10-09.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ "Why Google Maps is useless in South Korea, and how to get around without it". Korean Film Biz Zone. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  10. ^ yejichung (2023-07-11). "South Korea's tech paradox: How local constraints thwart its global ambitions". KOREA PRO. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  11. ^ Park, Nohyoung (2021). "A Korean Approach to Data Localization". The Korean Way With Data: How the World’s Most Wired Country Is Forging a Third Way.
  12. ^ Zwirko, Colin (2022-12-19). "South Korean outlets censor North Korean satellite images of Seoul area". NK PRO. Retrieved 2023-10-09.