Monday, December 21, 2009

Spatial Law and Policy Update (December 21, 2009)

Spatial data will play an important role in the development of the smart grid. However, as this article from cnet suggests, one of the requirements will be increased timeliness and accuracy of the data. As discussed many times here, such requirements can also result in increased risk.

Those interested in privacy should closely follow these two matters. The Electronic Privacy Information Center and a few other groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding Facebook's recent changes to its privacy policy. Location-based services companies should consider what impact any decision will have on their opt-in/opt-out policies. In addition, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving the privacy of an employee's text messages on an employer device. Although the case deals specifically with government employees and text messages, the Court could use this as an opportunity to weigh in on technology and privacy matters more generally with a broadly worded opinion.

If you can ignore the "sky is falling" tone of the following blog post on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website, you will find the post raises some interesting points. As discussed here before, in-house lawyers will find it challenging to deal with requests from law enforcement for location information on their customers given the stakes involved and the uncertainty in the law.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Drones in Iraq - Why Wasn't the Data Encrypted?

I can't help but think that the failure to encrypt the spatial data collected by drones in Iraq, as described in this article from the Wall Street Journal, is at least in part due to a lack of appreciation of the value of that data. Unfortunately, that is not just a shortcoming in the defense community - it is a reflection of a broader problem within government, particularly at the highest levels. As Chris Tucker points out however in this excellent piece in Foreign Policy, the impact is particularly acute within the military.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Spatial Law and Policy Update (December 14, 2009)

A former student forwarded me an email about this story of a New Zealand woman who deliberately falsified information about competitors on Google Maps. It appears from the article that there are measures a company can take to protect this sort of things from happening. However, it does highlight the number of another way in which spatial data can be flawed.

The UK recently issued INSPIRE regulations, a copy of which can be found here.

I wonder if protection of privacy will ever be a determinative factor in how a majority of people select their technology providers. My sense is that the answer is no - most people will not take the time necessary to figure out which company is more protective. However I do take exception to statements that some have made that we no longer should have an expectation of privacy. (And I think that - at least in the U.S. - the courts would as well.) I think that a more accurate, and less inflammatory, statement is that as a society we need to redefine what privacy is given the technology that exists today . . . and what is likely to exist in the future. I believe that this is particularly important with regards to privacy from a location standpoint. And I would recommend the question be framed around how much of our location privacy are we willing to give up in order to enjoy the many benefits of technology. For example, in this situation.

As in many other areas, it appears Google is taking the lead with respect to Geo Digital Rights Management.

Stories like this one are an example as to some of the legal challenges that location-based services face. However, the article is also indicative of the tension between those in the technology world and those in the legal world. The author suggests that it is unreasonable for the woman in the article to file a class action suit for $5 million since her actual damages were minimal. However, a major lawsuit is often viewed as the only means for an individual to get a response from a large company or even an industry. As spatial technology increasingly enters the consumer marketplace, it is important that companies develop internal processes that protect them from such lawsuits and not just dismiss them as frivilous.

I recommend this article from the New York Times for anyone interested in the legal and policy challenges associated with sharing of government data with private individuals (and companies).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Spatial Law and Policy Update (December 5, 2009)

James Fee recent post on his blog discusses the difficulties he has faced in connection with trying to obtain spatial data from the City of Phoenix. Many of you who work with or for local governments will understand the complexity of the issues involved here - how much can and should a municipality charge for granting a license to its GIS data? I recommend reading the state statute that he provides a link to, as it is illustrative of the issues involved, and the role of law. One will note that under the law the local government is required - not permitted - to charge market value for the data. Putting aside how the local government official can determine what is market for this data, one wonders if local government should not have more discretion to decide whether or not to charge market price.

Although somewhat complex - from both a technical and a legal standpoint - I recommend that anyone that is interested in spatial data licenses, read the post dated October 12, 2009 on the Ogleearth blog. (I was not able to link directly to the post and did not want to cut and paste the entire post here.) The technical issue is the ability to overlay certain files on Garmin devices using - I believe, an application such as Google Maps. The legal issue concerns the language of a disclaimer suggesting that the user make sure he or she either have the necessary rights to overlay a map that he or she owns or gets the necessary permission from the copyright holder. Ogleearth asks why should one need permission to scan and overlay a map and use it for personal use as long as that map is not shared with others. The reason, I believe, that Garmin is concerned is that under terms of use of some sites, the act of uploading and overlaying a map onto that site's map gives the owner of the site rights in the data on the map. In many instances, the granting of such rights would violate the rights of the original copyright holder. I wonder if others have a different read of this?

I mentioned this story in an earlier post. But I thought this post on Cnet added to the potential impact on spatial technology companies - particularly the following:

"Manulife, while confirming (footage from Sky News embedded here) that it does use social-networking sites to, well, check up on its customers, also said, 'We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on Web sites such as Facebook.'"

An interesting - and humorous - take on the licensing of spatial data from a proponent of open data.

I guess I should not be surprised at this story about a town in California installing a system so that it can take an image of the license plate of every car entering or leaving the town, but for some reason I am.

Coincidentally, I was speaking this week with a GIS manager about this very issue - whether metadata should be considered part of the public records. In Arizona at least, this answer if somewhat clearer.

This article, written by a trial lawyer, discusses some of the challenges associated with obtaining spatial data as evidence in a trial.