Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Spatial Law and Policy: Top 10 Stories of 2011

As I have blogged in the past, it appears that 2012 will be a big year for Spatial Law and Policy matters. Many of these matters will take place because of events that occurred over the past year. As a result, below, in no particular order, are what I consider to be the Top 10 stories in 2011 related to Spatial Law and Policy.

You will note that this list cuts across both technology platforms and legal and policy disciplines and is global in nature. I believe that this representative of the issues facing the industry, but would appreciate your comments and suggestions.

U.S. Supreme Court to address law enforcement's use of tracking devices.  The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case U.S. v. Jones in November.  In Jones, law enforcement used a tracking device to follow the defendant for four weeks without a warrant. A key issue in the case is how long does following an individual without first obtaining a warrant become a violation of that person's Fourth Amendment rights.   If the court rules on that issue - it conceivably can rule on a much narrower issue without addressing tracking - the impact could be much broader than this case. It could also provide insight into how the Supreme Court views a person's reasonable expectation of privacy from a location standpoint with regards to a variety of geospatial technologies.

Impact of budget cuts becoming more pronounced.  It is no secret that governments around the world are struggling to deal with massive budget concerns. In 2011, these concerns began to affect significant geospatial technology programs, such as the EnhancedView Program in the United States and Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) project in Europe.  Any significant budget impact on these programs will have a  lasting impact on the geospatial community as a whole, particularly businesses, government agencies and consumers who have come to rely on increasingly more frequent and higher quality geospatial data.

Privacy issues regarding geolocation becomes international story  Privacy concerns associated with geolocation information received a great deal of attention in the media, from legislatures and regulators, and even in the courtroom in 2011. One should expect much more attention in 2012.

Increased efforts to regulate Internet. There were a variety of efforts in 2011 to restrict the availability of information over the internet. These efforts included a number of countries attempting to use the United Nations to create/enforce such restrictions, including (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). In addition, internet censorship for national security or cultural purposes continued around the world.  In the United States, Congress is debating the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that critics complain would be ineffective, is unconstitutional and could 'break' the internet. Since geospatial data increasingly is being made available over the internet, the success of these efforts could impact a variety of geospatial technologies.

Commercial use of drones becoming a reality. There were many reports in 2011 on the potential use of drones for civilian and domestic purposes.  This was particularly true in the United States, due in part to  FAA proposed regulations expected to be released in early 2012 addressing drone airspace issues.  Clearly, the drones are coming.

Lightsquared/GPS dispute - The issue has received a good deal of attention over the past year, so I won't go into more detail here. However, it is important to keep in mind, that whatever decision the FCC reaches in 2012 likely will be challenged in the courts.

United Nation hosts GGIM - In October, the United Nations hosted the first United Nations Initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (GGIM).The stated goal of the GGIM is to play "a leading role in setting the agenda for the development of global geospatial information and to promote its use to address key global challenges" and to provide a "forum to liaise and coordinate among Member States, and between Member States and international organizations. A Committee of Experts is also being stood up by the UN to identify critical issues as well as to coordinate with the RIO-20 Conference. This was an important step for the UN and it will be worth following what steps it takes in 2012.

India revises its Remote Sensing Data Policy - After much discussion and debate, India introduced its new Remote Sensing Data Policy. The policy included some fundamental improvements to the earlier version and was an important step for a major player in the international geospatial marketplace.  For example, the Indian Space Research Organization will now make imagery of up to 1 meter resolution available for public use; previously the limit was 5.8 meters.

Indonesia passes Geospatial Information Act - In 2011, Indonesia passed what appears to be a broadly worded  bill regarding the collection, use and transfer of geospatial information. The new law includes language that could make certain data providers liable for errors in their data products and services. Other countries are considering similar laws with respect to the collection, use and distribution of geospatial data. It will be interesting to see how many laws are passed in the upcoming year and how issues of data quality will be addressed.

Big Data -The term 'big data' has received a great deal of attention in technology - and increasingly business - journals. Much of the value in big data is linking it to a particular location. Therefore, the legal and policy issues of big data are nearly identical to those associated with geospatial data. In fact, one of the conclusions from a recent report by McKinsey & Company (Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity) is:

" [s]everal issues will have to be addressed to capture the full potential of big data. Policies related to privacy, security, intellectual property, and even liability will need to be addressed in a big data world. Organizations need not only to put the right talent and technology in place but also structure workflows and incentives to optimize the use of big data. Access to data is critical—companies will increasingly need to integrate information from multiple data sources, often from third parties, and the incentives have to be in place to enable this." 

No comments: