Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 10 Spatial Law and Policy Stories of 2010

2010 was a big year for the geospatial industry. It was also a big year for matters related to Spatial Law and Policy. Below, in no particular order, are what I consider to be the Top 10 stories related to Spatial Law and Policy in 2010.

1. Europe's reaction to Google Street View. Countries continued to express privacy concerns in 2010 over Google's Street View collection, particularly when it was revealed that in some cases Google was also collecting emails and other personal information. However the response seems to have been the strongest in Europe. One of the results was Germany introduced efforts to regulate mapping efforts such as Street View.

2. Privacy legislation in United States includes "precise geolocation information".
Following a series of Congressional hearings, two pieces of legislation (one introduced and one simply proposed) intending to protect internet privacy included language regulating the collection, use and sharing of "precise geolocation information". The term was not further defined, presumably leaving it up to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address. Subsequently, both the FTC and the Department of Commerce issued reports concerning internet privacy and both referenced location. Geolocation is sure to be a hot topic on Capitol Hill next year.

3. "Free and Open Data". I have seen it alternatively described as "free and open" or as "full and open" spatial data. Either way, there is a growing trend to make spatial data available at as little cost and with as few restrictions as possible. This trend can be seen at the international level, (e.g. Global Earth Observation System of System (GEOSS) and Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), the national level (efforts to release national data sets under Creative Commons-type licenses) and at the local level (e.g. increased availability of Open Street Map data. This effort could have a significant impact on the ability to combine and use data sets from a variety of sources. It may also result in some data suppliers from holding back their most valuable or sensitive data sets.

4. Mark Brender leaves GeoEye. Those outside the remote sensing industry may not be aware of Mark, but Mark began extolling the many potential benefits of commercial remote sensing in the early 1980's and since then has been actively working to promote the industry and the technology in Washington and the media. Mark left GeoEye this year in order to work more actively with the GeoEye Foundation, an organization he helped start with CEO Matt O'Connell's assistance in 2007. Although Mark will remain active in the industry, his daily efforts to grow the industry will be missed.

5. Warrantless GPS tracking. Courts in the United States issued a series a conflicting decisions in 2010 as to whether law enforcement needed to obtain a warrant before using GPS or other tracking devices to monitor an individual's movements. Confusion on such an important issue is unacceptable. Hopefully it will be resolved in 2011.

6. Law enforcement obtaining customer location information. An important decision was issued by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals this year as to whether law enforcement needed to obtain a warrant before obtaining historical location information about an individual through their cell phone records. Unfortunately, the court punted. This issue is also too important to remain unresolved. In that regard, Congress is looking at updating the relevant portions of the Electronic Communications Protection Act (ECPA). This effort is supported by the Digital Due Process Coalition - a broad coalition of technology companies and think tanks.

7. Privacy lawsuits. In December, there were two lawsuits filed against Apple and a few application developers for collecting personal information, including location, associated with iPods and iPads without the consent of the owner. This is likely to become a bigger issue in 2011 and may include Android phones, given the uncertainty in this area of the law. In a somewhat related matter, Google was forced to pay the Borings of Pennsylvania $1 for trespassing. (You will remember their invasion of privacy lawsuit was dismissed in 2009.)

8. Crowd-sourcing. Crowdsourcing, community remote sensing, voluntary geographic information (VGI), whatever you want to call it, became a big issue in 2010. Undoubtedly, the proliferation of smart phones creates the possibility of a volunteer sensor network. However, it will raise a number of legal and policy challenges, including liability, privacy, national security and intellectual property rights.

9. Ordnance Survey licensing terms. Ordnance Survey has taken a number of hits over the years regarding its policy on licensing of spatial data. Its decision in 2010 to reduce licensing restrictions was an important event. However, from my point of view the discussion and examples it used when discussing issues such as what constitutes a derivative product subject to OS licensing is equally important. Clearly, OS put a good deal of thought into this issue and I recommend it as a useful resource to anyone involved in this area.

10 Accidents involving navigation devices. There were a few high-profile incidents reported in the media related to satnav devices, including one reported fatality. In addition, there was a lawsuit filed against Google claiming an injury related to use of Google Maps. Not surprisingly, plaintiff lawyers are discussing the risks associated with use of such devices.


Info@airphotoslive.com said...

It was nice to see Mark BRENDER on your top 10 list.....even in his new role
he has helped magnify our aerostat based crowd count efforts on the National Mall.

Unknown said...

re: crowdsourcing... Crowdsourcing after the Haiti earthquake changed the way emergency responders did their work. It's a good thing.

Kevin said...

I agree it is a good thing. I did not mean to imply otherwise. I was simply suggesting that it raises some challenging legal and policy issues that need to be considered and addressed.

Will Craig said...

My list would include the Danish study showing €14 million annually in direct economic benefits from opening the government's address data to the public. If you extrapolate this to a nation the size of the US, we'd receive $1 billion in annual benefits. Instead, the Census Bureau spent $444 million collecting x-y coordinates on addresses, data unavailable for use by anyone else.

Kevin said...


Thanks for the comment. I would be interested in what other items people feel I have overlooked. KDP