Thursday, February 28, 2008

Space Law 2.0?

I am not sure that this is directly related to Spatial Law, but the following link is a good exampple as to why it is so hard for the legal and policy community to keep up with the spatial community. While we struggle to deal with the legal issues surrounding sat nav devices, the author is suggesting other ideas that I am sure are in the works. To quote from the blog:

"If we can have navigation systems that deliver real-time directions (linking voice files to place and delivering it in real time), there's no good reason why we can't use the same system to deliver meaningful content - just change the content from "turn left in a half a mile on Avenue A," to, say, Martin Luther King's Speech at the Great March on Detroit in June 1963 (with his good friend the Reverend C.L. Franklin sitting with him on the platform and daughter Aretha's music in the background) and hear instead . . "

Monday, February 25, 2008

Did Google Earth "Slander" An Israeli Town?
The above link is to a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, which reports that an Israeli town is suing Google for slander because it allowed a Google Earth user to insert a note that the town was built on a former Arab village. There are a variety of possible takes on this matter if in fact a lawsuit was filed. For example, one can wonder why is Google a party, since it did not add the note, it simply provided a forum? Or one can question whether a town can bring a lawsuit for slander? For my part, I am just surprised that someone even came up with the idea for this lawsuit.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

US Court Finds A "Substantial Privacy Interest" In Spatial Data

A recent case involving a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for public spatial data was recently decided. (Multi Ag Media v. USDA, No. 06-5231, D.C. Dist. Feb 15, 2008). The case involves a request for agricultural data from the Department of Agriculture for data related to farm subsidies. A portion of the request had been held back for privacy reasons pursuant to Exemption 6 of FOIA.

Although after much deliberation the court ultimately decided to release the information I was surprised to see how far the court was willing to go to find a “substantial privacy interest” in this case. The court apparently agreed with USDA that even the potential that data could be aggregated in such a way that someone could then do crop analysis that then might be used to determine a farm’s worth that may or not be owned by an individual is a privacy risk. That seems to create a high hurdle to overcome in future cases, at least in this circuit. (It is noteworthy for those in the industry that the court adds, almost as an aside, that it believes that the disclosure of GIS databases "only heightens these privacy concerns" because the information is set forth in photographs and maps)

I find it a significant leap forward from Forest Guardians v. FEMA, which was decided in the 10th Cir. in 2005. In that case, Forest Guardians was looking for electronic copies of GIS maps with all forms of data, but excluding names and addresses. However, it was clear to the court that the names and addresses could easily be obtained from the data that would be provided, in which case each such individual would be subject to variety of potential invasions of privacy regarding their finances.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Round-up of Spatial Law issues

Link to an article from Salt Lake Tribune about the need to control government's efforts to provide services that can be provided by government entitities. This is big issue for companies that produce maps and other spatial products, particularly at the state level, as I realized by attending the recent MAPPS Winter Conference.

Discussion on the Ars Technica blog about another case involving attempt by county official to distribute local data. History of this case is interesting. Seneca Technologies won a suit to obtain electronic copies of tax maps under the state Freedom of Information Act at a price much lower than counties were charging for paper copies of the same type of information. Seneca is now posting this information on its website. Now a county tax accessor is suing for violation of county copyright on tax maps.

I missed this case when the opinion was first published last year, but I think it still noteworthy, particularly since appeals are still pending. In Darden v. Peters, the plaintiff is challenging the decision of the US Copyright Office to deny copyright protection to on-line maps and compilations. Unfortunately, there is much discussion in the opinion on administrative law issues. However, the opinion also discusses how the Copyright Office claims to have applied copyright law to the application. Hopefully, if an appeal is granted, there will be more discussion of the latter, as this is an important issue.

I saw the press release below from DMTI Spatial, Inc. and was intrigured by the title and responsibilities of the position --- as I believe it shows the complexity of spatial data. According to the release, as Vice President, Intellectual Property and Privacy, Ms. John "is responsible for the development, negotiation and management of all licensing agreements on behalf of the company. She is also in charge of the development of, and adherence to, information management policies that ensure the company’s compliance with privacy legislation."

The job description suggests that licensing, privacy (and I would argue liability issues) with respect to spatial data are inextricably linnked. Having one person responsible for overseeing all of these issues is good business from a legal standpoint.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Will GPS Save (or Cost) You Money?

The following link is to an article on MSN about that discusses how the increased presence of GPS devices in automobiles can affect your pocketbook.

I find the article interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I believe that the general public will only become concerned about spatial privacy when it begins to impact them financially. According to the article, that time has arrived. Second, the author references the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as a source for consumers with privacy concerns associated with companies collecting personal spatial data. The FTC has taken a proactive stance with respect to consumer privacy and I believe that companies that collect and maintain spatial data should be aware of the FTC's role in this area.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Spatial Data and National Security

The following is a link to an article that I wrote a few years ago on matters a spatial data company might want to consider from a national security standpoint. It received mixed reviews within the community when it was first written. I wonder if the sentiments have changed in this environment (i.e. an even greater abundance of spatial data and applications)?