Sunday, July 22, 2007

Spatial Privacy - What is it? What should it be?

I have been asked to give a talk on privacy and spatial technology in December to a group of lawyers interested in the legal aspects of remote sensing. Before putting together my remarks, I am very interested in learning what those in the spatial community think privacy is in a spatial context, and just as importantly, what it should be. It is an important topic for the development of spatial technology. However, it has not yet been codified, in the U.S. at least. in any meaningful way. As a result, one is forced to look at other areas of law for guidance. For example, if and when should a person have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" with respect to his or her location? Should there be a "reasonable expectation of privacy" with respect to a particular person or group, such as a spouse, an employer, or law enforcement? Similarly, should location-based information be subject to the same legal protection as "personally identifiable information" -- such as credit card information or medical records? I encourage you to provide your thoughts and comments below.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Elbit Systems, Ltd, a shareholder in ImageSat International N.V., announced it that has been named in a lawsuit made by certain minority shareholders of ImageSat against other shareholders owning a majority of ImageSat stock, as well as certain ImageSat officers and directors. The suit alleges the defendants' breached fiduciary obligations they had to the company, by squandering potentially lucrative business opportunities, in order to protect Israel's political and national security interests. (The majority shareholders allegedly have ties to the Israeli government and defense establishment).

Generally, minority shareholders have a significant uphill battle in making a claim against majority shareholders for breach of fiduciary duty, etc. Their ultimate success will depend in part upon what the court believes actually happened, what laws govern -- even if the case is held in NY, another jurisdiction's laws may apply -- and what the operative documents provide. Should be a fascinating case if it ever goes to trial.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New York City's Plans to Collect Spatial Data

The New York Times reports on plans to place video cameras and license plate readers in Lower Manhattan. (registration required). It is worth noting that officials stated that the cameras would be placed where there is "no expectation of privacy".

I wonder how long it will take before there is a Google Earth mash-up showing all the locations of the cameras?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Spatial Data And National Security - Time For A Dialogue

Brownian Emotion has one of the best discussions I have seen on the tension between national security and an open society with respect to Google Earth in particular, and spatial data in general. It is dialogue between Assemblyman Michael Gianaris' concerns about Google Earth and Avi Bar-Ze'ev, one of the forces behind Google Earth technology. Although I think that at times the two are speaking past one another, they both make some excellent points.

I am somewhat conflicted on this topic, as I can see both sides. As a former intelligence analyst -- including a satellite imagery analyst - I believe that spatial data, such as commercial satellite imagery, can have some real value to terrorists. And I do not fully buy into the argument that they can simply get the data elsewhere. Even if true, each additional step that they are forced to take increases the risk that they will either get caught before they are able to cause harm, or that they leave a trail that can be traced back to them. Law enforcement officials recognized this with respect to the flow of money to support terrorism and now banking transactions are monitored closely.

And as spatial technology improves (such as 3-D visualization), potential terrorists and their allies are going to be able to do more of their planning over the Internet. This will make it even more difficult to monitor them. Some have argued that such training will not provide a sufficient level of comfort to prepare for a terrorist attack - the spatial data may not be current, or may not provide all the necessary information. However, it appears that terrorists are not looking for carefully planned, precision strikes, but simply to maximize casualties and terror. (For example, it does not seem that are looking for a means of escape). As as a result, mid-quality, older data may be sufficient.

On the other hand, I agree that this industry has come too far and has too many potential economic and societal benefits to be hamstrung by censorship or stringent regulation. Unfortunately, there is no legal regime in place to balance these competing issues with respect to spatial data. I hope that a useful dialogue will develop soon between the spatial technology industry and the US intelligence and defense communities. Otherwise poorly thought through legislation may hamper the development of this segment of the industry. Perhaps the correspondence cited above will be a step towards such dialogue.