Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Thoughtful Discussion On Privacy

The attached link is to an article on privacy and spatial technology by Professor George Cho of the University of Canberra in Australia, one of the leading experts in legal issues associated with spatial technology. (He also has published an excellent book on spatial law issues entitled Geographic Information Science: Mastering the Legal Issues.)

I found two of his points particularly important for spatial companies to keep in mind in their business transactions. First, that the "privacy threat is from the new inferences that may be made by correlating geographic information with personal information". Typically, sensitive information is associated with data that identifies "race, religion, political affiliations or sexual habits" not location. However, as Professor Cho points out "when processing data on persons, especially when locations are involved, say in terms of visiting synagogues on a regular basis or particular areas of ethnic concentrations, it is arguable that sensitive data are being processed and unintended inferences may be made about a person's religion or ethnicity." As a result, if a company is concerned that its spatial data will be used in a way that violates an individual's privacy, it should inquire as to whether its spatial data will be integrated with sensitive personal data and what privacy protections are being taken. It may even be prudent to include language on this issue in any contract or license agreement -- through representations and warranties or affirmative covenants.

Second, Dr Cho notes that "geospatial technology is inherently visual but this strength also exposes a major weakness in that it may produce map interences that may be both statistically and ecologically fallacious." The more spatial technology is pushed down to the consumer, the more likely that it will be used by those who do not understand its limitations. For example, that spatial data accuracy sufficient for one application may not be sufficient for another application. Therefore, it is important for a company to be aware of how its product could be be used for an unintended purpose, and if possible to take steps to warn against or even prevent such unintended use - through measures such as legal disclaimers.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Who Is At Fault When A Right Is Wrong?

Many of you have probably already heard about the recent accident involving a driver in a rental car who, following the directions given to him by his sat nav device, turned onto railroad tracks. When the car got stuck he was able get out before it was then hit by a train. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. However, apparently the driver is being held responsible for damages caused to the train and the rental car.

The following link was forwarded to me by a reader of Spatial Law: It is by a lawyer who raises the question as to whether the driver might sue the manufacturer of the device for providing improper directions, which resulted in the accident As I have noted before, I believe that this scenario raises an important issue for the industry. The author of the article addresses the potential liability of the device manufacturer. However, a plaintiff's lawyer will likely sue everyone in the chain (data provider, device manufacturer, software developer, etc.) and let the court system determine and/or allocate liability.

The article has caused a great deal of reaction in the spatial technology industry with many people suggesting that the driver is totally at fault. I expect that it will also generate some interest in members of the legal community as well -- some of whom having a different point of view.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What To Do If the On-Line Maps Are Wrong. . .

I like the note added to the directions on the attached link. I wonder how many other sites do the same?

Virtual Map/Singapore Land Authority Appeal

I have attached a link below to an article concerning a case in Singapore in which Virtual Map is accused by Singapore Land Authority (SLA) of violating SLA's copyright in creating maps for The court ruled in favor of SLA in August, and Virtual Map has appealed. The central issue in the case is to what extent Virtual Map used SLA's maps in creating its own maps. Virtual Map says that it only used SLA maps in order to drive around to collect GPS data for its own maps. However, SLA argued that the SLA maps were used as a backbone for Virtual Map's products, and that Virtual Map would not have been able to create its maps without the SLA maps. It also cites phantom features on the SLA maps that it believes appear on's maps. I have also attached a link to the August decision. As the decision shows, determining copyright violations in the case of a map can be very difficult and requires detailed analysis. Ironically, Virtual Map has made a name for itself in attempting to enforce its copyright in spatial data.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Spatial Products - Product Liability Issues

I am planning on periodically posting summaries of significant spatial law cases. The first is Brocklesby v. U.S. 767 F.2d 1288 (9th Cir. 1985). It was decided in 1985 and is a very significant case in the area of product liability.

In Brocklesby, survivors of a plane crash brought an action against the publisher of allegedly defective instrument approach chart. The publisher used data from the FAA to portray the instrument approach procedures on a chart. The pilot was using this chart during the flight that crashed. The case, which was heard in California, was submitted to the jury on three theories of liability: breach of warranty, negligence and strict liability. Jeppeson had a number of defenses to these claims, including (1) the case did not involve a defective “product” for strict liability purposes, (2) that the defects in the FAA data will not support strict liability against Jeppeson, and (3) policy considerations barred any tort liability in this case.

In its ruling, the court found that the chart was a product, citing Aetna Casualty and Surety Co. v. Jeppesen & Co. 642 F.2d 339 (9th Cir. 1981). It also found that strict liability was applicable, citing Saloomey v. Jeppesen & Co., 707 F.2d 671 (2nd Cir. 1983) (“Though a ‘product’ may not include mere provision of architectural design plans or any similar form of data supplied under individually-tailored service arrangements, .. . the mass production and marketing of these charts requires Jeppesen to bear the costs of accidents that are proximately caused by defects in the charts.”) . Moreover, the court held that strict liability applied even though all “the defects in the Jeppesen chart stem from the Government's alleged failure to establish a safe instrument approach procedure.” The court held that “we note that Jeppesen had at least some ability to prevent injuries to users of its charts. Jeppesen’s production specifications manual required its employees to research any procedure thoroughly ‘to determine its validity and completeness’ . . . [a]ccordingly, Jeppesen had both the ability to detect an error and a mechanism for seeking corrections.” Moreover, the court found that “strict liability is appropriate even though ‘the seller has exercised all possible care int eh preparation and sale of his product.’”.

With respect to the public policy issue, Jeppesen stated that it was unfair to hold it strictly liable for “accurately republishing a government regulation.” However, the court stated that “Jeppesen's charts are more than just a republication of the text of the government's procedures. Jeppesen converts a government procedure from text into graphic form and represents that the chart contains all necessary information. . . [a]s the manufacturer and marketer of those products, Jeppesen assumed the responsibility for insuring that the charts are not unreasonably dangerous in their intended use.”

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Creative Commons Licensing For Public Sector Information: Opportunities and Pitfalls

Many spatial products and services include public sector spatial data. Therefore, even though I have not yet read it, I wanted to pass on this report prepared by the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam, because I think the licensing of public sector data is an important one in spatial law. Let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Do Navigation Devices Portray "Reality"?

A recent New York Times article discusses how small villages in England are being overrun by large trucks driving through their narrow streets based upon directions taken from navigation devices. These directions provide for the shortest route, with no regards to the adequacy of the streets for such travel. As a result, there have been a number of accidents - mostly involving fences and side mirrors - and increased traffic on roads "built in the days of horses and carts".

There were two quotes in particular that I thought had significance from a product liability standpoint. Dick Snauwaert, a spokesman for Tele Atlas is quoted as saying " We map the reality - the streets, the signposts and the road infrastructure as it is in reality. We cannot change that reality in our database. Who are we to make a change and say, 'You cannot drive in that road' if , in reality, you can drive in that road" Geoff Dossettter, a spokesman for the Freight Transport Assocation, is quoted as saying "Foreign drivers very much depend on sat nav systems when they're coming to a different country, and they are following them rather more blindly than they ought to."

From a potential liability standpoint, "reality" is a very high standard to achieve, particularly with regards to consumer products. This standard becomes even more challenging if one knows that consumers are "blindly" relying on your products.