Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Five Legal/Policy Issues to Follow Over The Next Twelve Months

The next year is shaping up to be an important period for the geospatial industry.  Over that time there is likely to be movement on a number of key legal and policy issues that could have a significant impact on the industry's growth over the next decade.  These issues include:

LightSquared/GPS dispute - The issue has received a good deal of attention over the past six months, so I won't go into more detail here. However, there are two points worth considering. First, any negative impact LightSquared's technology has on GPS (and similar systems) will be felt throughout the geospatial community; interference with GPS development and use for commercial purposes will be a step back for the entire geospatial community. Moreover, whatever decision the FCC reaches likely will be challenged through legal means, including lawsuits. Such uncertainty will be seen as a challenge for businesses wishing to exploit this technology for commercial purposes.

GPS tracking case to be heard by U.S. Supreme Court - The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the case U.S. v. Jones in November.  One of the specific issues involved in the case is to what extent is the use by law enforcement of a GPS tracking device to track a suspect on public streets without first obtaining a warrant a violation of the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights. (In Jones, the tracking occurred for over four weeks.)  If the court rules on that issue - it conceivably can rule on a much narrow issue without addressing tracking - the impact could be much broader than the facts of this case or even the use of GPS tracking devices by law enforcement. It may create a broader statement as to what a person's reasonable expectation of privacy is from a location standpoint with regards to a variety of geospatial technologies.

Budget considerations Governments around the world are struggling with budget concerns. These concerns are likely to delay and/or undo current plans to deploy satellite systems in the US and around the globe. Given that the economic uncertainty is likely to last for a while, it may take years before such decisions are overcome. As a result, the geospatial community may be feeling the effects of the decisions for a decade or longer. Again, the impact will likely go well beyond the satellite companies and reach the broad range of businesses, government agencies and consumers who have come to rely on increasingly higher quality geospatial data.

Impact of privacy legislation and regulation on geolocation - I have written extensively about how geolocation information is being caught up in global efforts to protect consumer privacy. Thus far most of the media and regulatory attention seems to have been focused on companies such as Google and Apple.  However, legislation and regulations are being developed - and could be implemented over the next year - that would have a much broader impact and could make it much more difficult and expensive for a variety of companies to collect, use and or transfer geospatial data.

Efforts to use the UN to regulate information available on the internet - There is a growing effort by countries to use the United Nation as a means to restrict the availability of information over the internet. This includes (i) China and Russia proposing a Code of Conduct for Internet Security that would curb "dissemination of information which incites terrorism, secessionism, extremism or undermines other countries' political, economic and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment" (ii) India, Brazil and South Africa calling upon a new global body within the UN to 'control the internet' and (iii) the ITU adopting a proposal to hold a meeting (subsequently postponed) on cybersecurity and 'the illicit use' of satellite imagery and information and communications technology (ICT). Since geospatial data increasingly is being made available over the internet and countries have expressed concerns about the potential for publicly available geospatial data to threaten a nation's security, the success of these efforts could impact a variety of geospatial technologies.

One can not predict the likely outcome of any of these matters. However, it is increasingly clear that collectively they will shape the future development of the geospatial industry.

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