Friday, November 13, 2009

Libertarians Win in Battle for Geographic Data

The libertarian California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) has finally defeated Santa Clara County in a long running battle over access to geospatial/geographic data!

In the United States, traditional and laws generally make government-created information free or available at a nominal cost. The vast majority of GIS data made by federal, state, and local governments can usually be downloaded off central database or ordered on a CD/DVD. Santa Clara County instead optioned for claiming their GIS data was copyrighted and under various Homeland Security laws. These excuses were the basis of the county changing up to $250,000 (about £150,900, €168,200). Fortunately, CFAC sued and won in the court case and several appeals. Santa Clara County has settled by paying a punitive fee and ensuring all data will now will only cost a nominal fee. According to the AAG (PDF) the county now only charges $3.10 per disk plus shipping).

This is a great victory for geographers and the public. Free spatial data allows for better economic planning, marketing, activism, and research: all requirements for a healthy open society. Sadly, most countries do not offer easy access to geographic data. Even countries like the United Kingdom, with the government-monopoly Ordnance Survey, create huge obstacles to access data. Groups like Free Our Data fight the good fight their to help ensure easy and free access to geospatial information.

Geographers, especially those doing research, need to rally around these movements to not only help themselves but also the citizens and businesses who are handicapped by artificial barriers to knowledge.

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