Thursday, May 29, 2008

Farm Bill To Address Privacy Issues?

Recently I posted a discussion on a Spatial Law case involving privacy and the federal Freedom of Information Act ( In that case the court determined that even though there was a substantial privacy interest with regards to spatial data collected by the Department of Agriculture, that it was outweighed by the public good obtained from the release of the data.

I recently became aware of some language in the conference report associated with H.R. 2419 "The Farm Bill" which would in effect prohibit the Department of Agriculture from disclosing such information except for a limited number of reasons. (See e.g. Section 1619(b)(2)(B) of the conference report)

I would be interested in learning more about why this language was included in the conference report. Specifically I wonder whether it was included to truly protect the privacy of all farmers or whether it was inserted because a handful of farmers are lobbying to limit the disclosure of sensitive information that may or may not be "private"

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Restictions On Spatial Data Can Have Detrimental Consequences.

Spatial data is unique in that a data set can be used for a variety of purposes: national security, environmental, commercial, infrastructure. The recent tragic events in China are a good example of these qualities. The May 13, Slashgeo Daily Newsletter references a number of articles on China's attempt to regulate companies that provide Internet mapping services, such as Google. Apparently, the Chinese government has expressed both national security concerns as well as the belief that the maps do not accurately portray its borders. Subsequently on May 17, the Google Earth blog reports on efforts around the world to use Google Earth to help visualize the earthquake damage. (Similarly, spatial data is being used to assist relief efforts in Myanmar.)

It is unclear as to what China has done or might do to regulate Internet mapping companies. However, any effort to regulate spatial data in one context may result in unintended detrimental consequences in others. As a result, those who wish to restrict the collection, analysis and/or distribution of spatial data need to look beyond their limited domain in weighing the costs and benefits of such actions.

Monday, May 5, 2008

NBC Report on GPS and Accuracy of Spatial Data

NBC Nightly News did a report this Sunday (May 4, 2008) on GPS devices in cars. The reports focus was on the flaws in the system, specifically the accuracy of the data. It mentioned in passing a few examples of how errors in the system resulted in accidents - including an accident involving a bus of which I was not aware. I encourage you to visit the program's website if you have not seen the report as it shows what the general public knows - and does't know - about the technology.