Thursday, April 26, 2007

Liability for Spatial Data - Is There a Duty to Update?

A recent post on Brain Off ( describes how many of the major web-based map providers continue to show a major bridge in Mississippi despite the bridge having been destroyed during Hurricane Katrina over a year and a half ago.

Brain Off points out that this oversight is a combination of technological, structural and social issues. However, it is also a potential legal issue. Inaccuracies such as this can lead to someone getting injured and given the litigious nature of our society, lawsuits inevitably follow.

One possible defense to such lawsuits will be that the sites provide appropriate legal disclaimers and waivers of rights. However, these measures may not be sufficient. For example, such disclaimers and waivers are unlikely to apply to third parties (i.e. those not directly using the map) who are injured. For example, a passengers in a car. In addition, there is case law that suggests that certain maps my be considered products (not services) and therefore subject to product liability claims. In some jurisdictions, disclaimers and waivers would not be a defense against a product liability claim.

What steps can a spatial data company take?

There are a number of steps that a company can take to help address potential liability issues. These include:

  1. Clearly defining in contracts and licenses which party is responsible for maintaining the accuracy and timeliness of the data.
  2. Monitoring how data is being used and taking steps to ensure that customers are not using the data for purposes for which the data is not suited.
  3. Developing a policy for the reasonable update of data for its intended use(s) and then making sure the policy is followed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Export Controls and Imagery

Recently Ogle Earth wrote that aid workers in Sudan were prohibited from accessing Google Earth. The reason, Ogle Earth learned from an email exchange with Google,was that US export restrictions prohibited Google from allowing its Google Earth software from being downloaded in the Sudan. See:

There are a numerous restrictions on the export of technology from the United States. These restrictions will vary depending upon the type of technology being exported, the country the technology is being exported to, as well as the individual(s) or group(s) that will be using the technology. The restrictions being imposed on Google appear to be the result of the country the technology is being exported to.

Thus far, there are relatively few restrictions on the export of imagery, as compared to software to view and manipulate the imagery. As a result, displaying most image data on a web site for third parties to access does not appear to be restricted. This is due in large part to a series of laws and regulations that have made the export of information, as compared to software, subject to much less restrictions. Thus far, the US government appears to have taken the position that imagery is considered information for purposes of export controls. However, the export of information is not without any limitations. The US government, primarily through the Department of Treasury, does have certain requirements before information, such as imagery, can be exported. Image vendors should be aware of these requirements before exporting or displaying data.