Friday, August 22, 2008

Recent Spatial Law Links

Privacy - in all it forms - continues to be a hot Spatial Law issue. An article in the Washington Post discusses how the Department of Homeland Security has recently begun collecting data on when and where U.S. citizens enter the country by land. (DHS has been collecting this information from international air travel for a while). According to the article, the data will be stored for 15 years and may be used in criminal and intelligence investigations.

In the UK, police in Lincolnshire are reportedly using high resolution aerial imagery to fight against crime and to decrease response times to major incidents. The imagery will be integrated as a data layer with other GIS information.

As noted in previous posts, spatial technology and the collection of spatial data is becoming a powerful tool for law enforcement. I am very supportive of this trend as I believe law enforcement should use all available tools. However, I have some reservations that I hope will be addressed in the near future. For example, I am concerned that law enforcement officials may not have the appropriate training to understand the limitations of the technology and the nuances of spatial data. Similarly, I am also concerned that most citizens do not know how much spatial data is being collected about them on a regular basis; either by the government or in ways that can be accessed by the government during an investigation.

My feeling is that once informed, most citizens would be accepting of what data is being collected and how it is used. However, instead of educating citizens, it appears that law enforcement and intelligence officials want to keep capabilities veiled. While I certainly understand the need to protect sources and methods, I think this technology needs to be understood better by all involved.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Recent Developments in Spatial Law

Rick Crowsey, of Crowsey Incorporated, forwarded me this article from the Washington Post on the increased use of GPS devices by law enforcement in Virginia. (The article notes that the Supreme Court has not ruled directly on the use of GPS devices by law enforcement without a warrant - although it has ruled that the use of tracking devices without one is permissible - but that other jurisdictions that have ruled on such uses of GPS devices are split.

The article raises a number of good points. I particularly liked this quote attributed to Craig Fraser of the Police Executive Research Forum: "The issue is whether the more sophisticated tools are doing the same things we used to do or are creating a different set of legal circumstances". I also noted that there is a poll question that is attached to the article. At this time, of approximately two respondents, 51% found the increased use of GPS to be a troubling trend while 42% found it to be a welcome step against crime.

New York City is going even further according to this report. According to the report, license plates of all cars and trucks entering Manhattan will be scanned and stored in databases (for upwards of a month.) The city also intends to add thousands more security cameras in Lower Manhattan as well as radiation detection devices to be used in a buffer zone around the city.

Thanks to Kara John of DMTI Spatial for forwarding me the recently completed version 2 of "The Dissemination of Government Geographic Data in Canada: Guide To Best Practices." It is a product of the GeoConnections Program and is the work of the Data Licensing Guide Working Group of which Kara and many others put in a good deal of effort. I am sure that the report will be posted on the GeoConnections website - I know that version 1 is available online - but feel free to contact me if you wish me to forward you a copy. It is an excellent resource for anyone working on spatial law issues, not simply for those working in Canada.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

When Is A Gun Shot Like A Drug Prescription?

I came across two articles this week that caught my eye. The first was a Washington Post article about how insurance companies are accessing data bases on prescription drug records in order to determine whether to issue insurance policies to individuals. The article refers to these as "health credit reports". (Apparently, consumers consent to this use, but the article does not explain how such consent is obtained or what disclosure is provided.) Privacy advocates are concerned that there may be mistakes, and also that one prescription can be used to deal with a variety of ailments, which is not always clear to those reviewing the report. Recently the Federal Trade Commission determined that these reports are credit reports subject to FTC jurisdiction pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The reason I found this interesting is that I have been wondering for a while whether the FTC will use its broad powers to begin regulating spatial data. I think this article is a further indicator it might.

The second article is related, at least in my mind. It discusses how the Boston police are finally getting useful results from sensors that have been placed in high crime areas around the city to identify gun shot sounds. (The thought is that the police can respond more quickly). Apparently, the system took a while to work properly as there were a number of times when the sensors improperly identified sounds.

It is easy to see how this system could be of tremendous benefit. One can also imagine other types of helpful sensors being deployed, in addition to the CCTV camers that are becoming more ubiquitious. However, I know that there are a number of very smart people who can figure out how to use these data sets in ways that go beyond the purpose the data was originally collected. Insurance companies for example. Which brought me back to the first article. Which is why I see the articles as being related.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Street View Lawsuit Update

An update to the Pennsylvania lawsuit regarding Google Street View. Google has filed a response, portions of which can be viewed on The Smoking Gun. One item of note: a number of media reports suggest that Google's lawyers assert in their brief that given today's technology "complete privacy does not exist." Actually that language is a quote, properly attributed to a legal treatise on the subject of privacy that was published well before commercial satellite imagery and on-line mapping sites.

Review of Spatial Law Matters

A California teenager is challenging a ticket issued by a police officer based upon a radar gun reading. He believes that the GPS device in his car shows that he was travelling within the speed limit. According to the article, a ruling is expected in early October.

A recent New York Times article on the introduction of cameras with relatively simple photo geotagging capability. One wonders how soon it will be before someone tries to introduce a geotagged photo into evidence to prove where he or she was - or wasn't at a point in time.

Recent reports on China's efforts to curb on-line mapping sites for national security purposes.