Over the past two months, I have had occasion to consider the legal and policy issues associated with how spatial data is collected, used and/or distributed by a variety of spatial technologies and for a number of different applications. For example, I recently attended the International Commercial Remote Sensing Symposium, the ESRI Federal User's conference, and a discussion of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Security Infrastructure Protection (HSIP) program. In addition, over that same period I participated in a board meeting of the Open Geospatial Consortium, and a conference call on data sharing for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). I also counseled clients in a number of commercial transactions and have been preparing a series of talks on legal and policy issues associated with spatial data infrastructures (SDI).
This process has further strengthened my belief that the fundamental legal and policy challenges associated with the collection, use and distribution of spatial data are universal. That is, the GIS coordinator for a small town or city, faces the same issues as the in-house legal counsel at a commercial satellite imaging company or a social networking company and the international climate change expert attempting to access global environmental data. These issues include intellectual property rights, licensing, national security, data quality/liability and privacy. The relative importance of these issues may vary, depending upon what role an organization plays in the process and the type of issue being addressed. However, the core set of issues are the same.
Unfortunately, I do not think that many of those in these positions see themselves as being part of a broader community of spatial law and policy professionals. Instead, they believe they are dealing with a set of issues unique to their business or agency or issue. This view, while understandable, contributes to the lack of a consistent and transparent legal and policy framework for spatial data. In fact, one can argue that such a framework is not possible until the broader community is identified and energized. Which raises the question, is such a community possible, and if so, how can it be developed?