Saturday, March 21, 2009

Recent Spatial Law and Policy links

1. A recent article from Asian Surveying and Mapping on how surveyors are being disciplined, and in some cases sued, in Texas in connection with flood damage that was incurred as a result of Hurricane Ike. According to the article:

"Some of the damage in the US was due to flooding, where housing had been built below the Base Flood Level. This is a contour defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to correspond to a 100-year flood level. The position of the BFL was fixed by the National Geodetic Survey long ago and marked by concrete and brass monuments.

In the 1980s, FEMA re-measured the contour and found that the flood plain was about a metre above the old marks. It issued a new map, which became the document of reference for insurance companies and other authorities.

But no one told the surveyors, and they didn't ask. They continued to rely on the old elevations. This meant that people who thought their new homes were being built above flood level were actually building a metre below it.

The practical effect was to allow about 20 homes near the small town of LaBelle to be built in the flood plain. This mattered when Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast.

Not only were these homes below the flood level and wet, they had no flood insurance. To add to the homeowners' nightmare, FEMA would not permit them to rebuild their homes because they were in the flood plain. "

2. Google recently launched its Street View in the UK. According to the BBC, this resulted in requests to have certain images removed. What I don't understand is why the media typically portrays Google's removal of these images in such a negative manner. For example, this article from the BBC website suggests certain images were "mistakes" and states that Google was "forced to pull" images. However, the images were collected from public streets - how are these images a mistake? With respect to the removal of images, it appears to me that Google is doing exactly what people wanted, and what Google has said it will do.

3. Most of you are probably aware of the proposed legislation in California that would have required "internet mapping sites" to blur images of churches, schools, etc. It is my understanding that the hearing to discuss this bill was cancelled earlier this week at the request of the bill's author.

In Missouri, there is proposed legislation that, on it face, at least would limit the use of GIS to anyone but surveyors. Directions magazine details a well-written letter that MAPPS has sent to the state Senator who has proposed the legislation.

As the applications for spatial technology increases, so will the amount of legislation that attempting to regulate how spatial data is collected, distributed and used. However, much of this legislation will be drafted by policymakers who do not fully understand either the technology or the proposed legislation's overall implications.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spatial Law and Policy review

From The Daily Star, in Oneota, New York, an article describing how information obtained by a GPS device was used by police in convicting a man of second-degree murder. Interestingly, the device had been placed in his car by her husband, who apparently believed he was having an affair.

In a related matter . . .

Amici Curiae brief filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in connection with the use of GPS device to track individuals suspected in drug distribution. EFF claims that use of such devices by law enforcement without first obtaining a warrant is a violation of an individual's Fourth Amendment rights. For those interested in this topic, it is worth reading to see how they distinguish this case from use of "beepers", which Supreme Court has permitted being used without a warrant.