Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spatial Data - Privacy or Personally Identifiable Information

A recent article on CNET discusses some of the privacy concerns associated with Google's new street-level maps (and similar on-line services).,+even+in+online+maps/2100-1038_3-6187556.html? These concerns are discussed in more detail in blogs such as Boingboing and The Map Room

These discussions highlight that the public -- including lawmakers -- is still coming to grips with the relationship between spatial technology and privacy issues. For many people, it is one thing for someone, while on a public street, to take a picture of another person or their house. It is something completely different however to display that same picture on the web with time, location and other information that helps to identify that person-- even if the information is publicly available -- and to make a profit from it. In fact, in Virginia such action could result in a legal claim:

A key challenge for spatial technology companies will be to anticipate where the law is headed on this topic as the technology becomes more ubiquitious. The spatial technology industry may consider moving away from the concept of privacy per se and think more in terms of identifying and protecting "personally identifiable information" in a spatial context. Personally identifiable information can be derfined has been defined as any piece of information which can potentially be used to uniquely identify, contact, or locate a single person. This is a concept that lawmakers, and their consituents, are becoming familiar with in regards to the medical and financial services industries. It may serve as a helpful model in the future for the spatial technology industry.

Santa Clara - Court decision

The Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara has recently released its ruling that the California Public Records Act (CPRA) requires Santa Clara to sell an electronic copy of its GIS basemap (parcels, streets, orthophotos, etc.) to the public at cost, rather than at the much higher price it had been charging. A copy of the decision can be found at the website of the California First Amendment Coalition, the plaintiff in the case: This decision is important because some California counties believe that the CPRA does not apply to GIS data, and therefore have been charging a much higher price than being charged for other public records.

It is unclear how this decision will affect other counties or Santa Clara's recent announcement that it was withholding the sale of GIS data while reviewing its security policy. It is also unknown whether Santa Clara will appeal the Superior Court's decision.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

County Halts Sale of Spatial Data on Security Grounds reports on Santa Clara's efforts to temporarily halt the commercial sale of GIS data for security concerns. The town of Greenwich, Connecticut tried to prevent the release of its GIS data on similar grounds, but its position was rejected by the Connecticut Supreme Court. Spatial technology companies that use local GIS data should follow this, and related cases, closely, as local counties and municipalities surely will.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Licensing of Spatial Data - Unique Legal Issues

For those interested in the unique legal issues surrounding the licensing of spatial data, I recommend you check out the following discussion associated with the OpenStreetMap Project:

Most of the contributors are spatial data users, rather than lawyers, so it is very practical. The questions and discussion focus primarily on issues associated with the licensing of open spatial data. However, many of the issues, such as copyright, what constitutes a derivative product, and the combining of spatial data from various providers. are prevalent throughout the industry.