Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Courts Government United States News

Town Fights FOI Request for GIS Data and Images 243

Posted by michael
from the civic-duty dept.
dweyerma writes "The state's highest court will now decide a landmark public records case involving access to aerial reconnaissance photographs and maps of Greenwich, CT. The town maintains the images in a tightly kept database known as a geographic information system, which a judge declared to be public records last December. The Connecticut Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear the town's appeal of that ruling, expediting the case by leap-frogging the state Appellate Court. The move virtually coincides with the third anniversary of the initial complaint in the case, which Greenwich resident and computer consultant Stephen Whitaker filed with the state Freedom Information Commission after the town denied his request for an electronic copy of the entire database for security and privacy reasons."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Town Fights FOI Request for GIS Data and Images

Comments Filter:
  • Go team! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 25, 2004 @06:07AM (#10347432)
    wait, which side are we for?
  • GIS? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Xenex (97062) <xenex@opinionst[ ].com ['ick' in gap]> on Saturday September 25, 2004 @06:08AM (#10347437) Journal
    We haven't seen that [thesync.com] around here for far too long...
  • Uhh (Score:2, Funny)

    Uhhh those photos with me a betty the sheep on the farm uhh we were just playing leap frog
  • by vertical_98 (463483) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @06:17AM (#10347467) Homepage
    The government is a body of individuals most notably ungoverned - Shepard Book

    We used to to be the most loved country in the world, now we are the one that catches the most shit. I think the government should stop spoon-feeding us what they think we should know and let us have what we think we should know.

    There are always somethings that can not be revealed: Witness Protection, Undercover Officers, etc. But the maps are already available they are just not together in a nice electronic format. Maybe its time for the government of, for, and by the people to become that again.

    Vertical
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 25, 2004 @06:29AM (#10347490)
      There are always somethings that can not be revealed: Witness Protection, Undercover Officers, etc. Well the Bush administration seems to have no problem with revealing the identities of CIA NOC undercover officers. Especially ones who work WMD proliferation.
    • We used to to be the most loved country in the world
      For the benefit of a non-historian: when was this?
      • June 6, 1944

        Even the French liked us that day.
        • by intnsred (199771) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @08:22AM (#10347758) Homepage
          But the Russians weren't so happy with us that day.

          The Russians were still pissed that while they were fighting over 200 German divisions on the Russian front, the US and UK were fighting as few as 4 German divisions in Italy, in what the Russians considered a broken promise to open a second front as soon as possible.
          • in what the Russians considered a broken promise to open a second front as soon as possible. ...As soon as possible from the British-American prescective was as soon as the Germans and Soviet Russians had finished killing off as many of each other as possible.

            The whole point of the second world war was to remove possible competition from Anglo-Saxon hegemony over the British Empire. To the extent that the Germans and Russians destroyed each other while Americans watched (until early 1942), that strate
            • by Maudib (223520) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @12:11PM (#10348795)
              The whole point of the second world war was to remove possible competition from Anglo-Saxon hegemony over the British Empire.

              This theory nicely fits into marxist dogma, but really doesnt hold water. You could argue that the Germans started WWII in order to replace British-U.S. hegemony with their own, but to say that the Allies fought the war to remove competition is utterly absurd. Germany wasnt attacking British or French colonies, they were attacking Britain and France, trying to conquer them. The point of the war from the Allies perspective was purely self defense. The only other alternative was submission.

              That it was purely a matter of self defense is further vindicated by France and Englands repeated efferts at appeasement in order to avoid wat.

              No, waiting until 1942 to attack was certainly construed as diabolique by the paranoid Russians, however it took that long to build up the necesary resources. In 1940 the U.S. military was about half a million strong, how the hell is that supposed to turn into a second front overnight? That it only took two years is a testament to how quickly the Americans moved and how much they were trying to honor their committments to the russians.

      • by at_18 (224304) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @07:47AM (#10347653) Journal
        From 12 september 2001 until bush started talking about invading Iraq.
        • Even a bit earlier: until Bush started pushing around everyone who wanted to help him in Afghanistan.
          • Half Afghanistan, half Iraq. After Sep. 11, 2001, the USA were our (the Germans') best friends ever and we'd do anything to help them.
            Then good ol' George decided to go to Afghanistan and shoot some people and the USA were a bit too enthusiastic about taking their revenge, but what the heck. It was still tolerable, kind of.
            Then George and his buddy Tony decided that Iraq was not only hiding WMDs but also helping al Qaeda, all contrary evidence be damned. And everyone had to help them invade Iraq. And ever
    • There are always somethings that can not be revealed: Witness Protection, Undercover Officers, etc

      What about the submarine base in Greenwich? Isn't that kind of sensitive?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      How about the tell us what they thing we should know IN ADDITION to what we think we should know? That way they might tell us something we would like to know but wouldn't have thought of asking for?
    • "i think the government... spoon-feeding..." It isn't up to the public to decide what they need to know. Regardless of the claims that our congress is running blind with no real info from Bush(not likely), your elected officials are the only ones that need to know everything behind every decision.
      If you want to second-guess your congressman or senator's decisions, then ask them for the reasons behind what they do. Making enough noise will scare any politician into at least a half-assed reply.
      If you
      • It isn't up to the public to decide what they need to know

        This is patently wrong, and a paranoid knee-jerk reaction to anti-terrorist FUD spread by well-meaning but clueless (and now campaigning) government functionaries. Public information is just that--public. And unless it is demonstrated before a judge that the information should be kept out of the hands of the public, then it belongs to the people. Hence the phrase, "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

        An uninformed electorate is a misled electorate. Government rules by the consent of the governed. And a gated-community, private club, members-only government is a government that has removed itself from the very public who has consented to place them in power.

        One other point, which I think is relevant here, is that Greenwich, CT is one of the richest communities in the country. I think the reason they don't want aerial maps of the town made public is then we'd all know where and how they live. The anti-terrorist security angle is all just smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that America's richest elite class doesn't want to be noticed. Hiding behind the "national security" curtain is just plain cynical.

        And what's worse is the poor computer consultant who wants the maps (and has got all the liberal lawyers up in arms and fighting for him) probably just wants them so he can sell good information to companies that do lawn care, swimming pools, and aluminum siding for castle estates.

    • I think the government should stop spoon-feeding us what they think we should know and let us have what we think we should know.

      It's a tiny bit more complicated than that. Not only should we know what we think we should know, should we not also know of what we think we should not know?
  • by justzisguy (573704) * on Saturday September 25, 2004 @06:41AM (#10347516)

    I wonder if this has anything to do with the Attorney General Ashcroft's October 12, 2001 memo instructing federal agencies to stall on FOIA requests. [alternet.org]

    So, rather than asking federal officials to pay special attention when the public's right to know might collide with the government's need to safeguard our security, Ashcroft instead asked them to consider whether "institutional, commercial and personal privacy interests could be implicated by disclosure of the information." Even more disturbing, he wrote:


    "When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records."

    The Greenwich case appears to be an extension of the precident set by General Ashcroft. If FOIA is curtailed, how will journalists and watchdog groups get their information they use to keep government honest?

    • by flossie (135232) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @06:48AM (#10347531) Homepage
      If FOIA is curtailed, how will journalists and watchdog groups get their information they use to keep government honest?

      I do not think the word "keep" means what you think it means!

      • Despite all the examples of excess, government works most of the time for most people. Of course it makes mistakes, but it is a human run organization and is subject to fallibility.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          "Despite all the examples of excess, government works most of the time for most people. Of course it makes mistakes, but it is a human run organization and is subject to fallibility."

          So basically, government doesn't need to comply with the law, and you don't care.

          American, are you?
        • Yeah, that didn't work for the Catholic church, either.

          Doesn't matter how much sense the argument makes, people are reflexive when it comes to judgment and whatever their first opinion is, that's what they hold until death ... some longer.
    • Subtracting the spin put on this by alternet, what exactly is so bad about this memo? Ashcroft told federal officials that they should consider privacy rights when dealing with FOIA requests, and "even more disturbingly" that they should make sure their decisions have a sound legal basis.

      Shocking. Not.
      • The tone of the memo is slightly disturbing though. FOIA is designed to make the government more transparent. Ashcroft says, hey err on the side of obscurity, we are behind you.

        I don't disagree that there are plenty of things that the government knows that it shouldn't tell people, but there are also lots of things where it is ridiculous for there to be any secret keeping...
        • It is easy to misread the tone of a written message. Ever have a messenger conversation go to hell because of a quick-to-react emotional person on the other end gets a case of teh crazy on you? A conversation that would have gone an entirely different way over the phone or face-to-face?

          The tone of his memo may be intentional. Sometimes telling people to be careful isn't enough. Sometimes, to get their attention, you need to use various means to provide emphasis on the message. Or , then again, the p
    • I wonder if this has anything to do with the Attorney General Ashcroft's October 12, 2001 memo instructing federal agencies to stall on FOIA requests.

      Considering that it is the Connecticut government fighting the request and not the US government, probably not.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I wonder if this has anything to do with the Attorney General Ashcroft's October 12, 2001 memo...

      In other news, Reynolds Manufacturing, makers of leading aluminum foil products, announced record earnings on strong sales associated with the 2004 U.S. political season.

      "Our foil sales are unprecedented," said Reynolds CEO Tom Lansky. "Between the MoveOn.org crowd, the Democratic National Committee members, the Kerry campaign, and all the loose nuts out there wrapping their heads to keep out the imaginary As
  • by Gentlewhisper (759800) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @06:54AM (#10347549)
    Ok folks, if those bastards steal any more of our rights again, everybody aim your rifle into the sky.

    We will shoot that fscking satelite down!
  • Um... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Tito (95523)
    There are aerial photos available RIGHT NOW on http://www.acme.com/mapper/ [acme.com]
    • Re:Um... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sunspire (784352) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @07:34AM (#10347627)
      Or even better, if you use Keyhole 2 [keyhole.com], Greenwich CT photos are available at 1m resolution (the entire US is guaranteed to be available at 15m resolution). Now that's pretty damn good, you can make out cars easily and even people, I doubt the town's own images are much better than that. The program is available free of charge for 7 trial days to anyone in the world.

      So clearly this data is already available to anyone who wants it, so it's not about security. Restricting aerial photography, that's been paid for by tax money in the first place, just keeps it out of public programs like NASA's World Wind viewer (featured yesterday on Slashdot). I'm sure the greedy bastards at Greenwich would have no objections to selling the photos to a provider like Keyhole instead of just give them up for free. Crying "terrorists, security breach!" is just the fashionable thing to do these days when don't feel like cooperating.

      And let's face it. Programs like Keyhole and the free World Wind are only going to get better from here on. 5-10 years from now you're going to able to pan from San Francisco to Paris, either way around, and have a 1-5meter resolution all the way, so that you can count every Starbuck along the way if you feel like it. The globe is going to be mapped completely, deal with it.
      • Re:Um... (Score:4, Funny)

        by Fulcrum of Evil (560260) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @09:03AM (#10347874)

        And let's face it. Programs like Keyhole and the free World Wind are only going to get better from here on. 5-10 years from now you're going to able to pan from San Francisco to Paris, either way around, and have a 1-5meter resolution all the way, so that you can count every Starbuck along the way if you feel like it.

        Who's going to spend the time to photograph the Atlantic at 1M resolution?

    • Uuummm... the photos of my house on that site are more than 10 years old.

      "There are aerial photos available RIGHT NOW on http://www.acme.com/mapper/"

  • by PhotoGuy (189467) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @07:16AM (#10347589) Homepage
    Well, sort of.

    It's always been a thorn in my side, that (here in Canada, and no doubt elswhere) tax money pays for government agencies to collect map and aerial photography data (and land records), and do not make it properly accessible to the public.

    Prior to the internet, you could buy the maps and aerial photographs for a fee, which was a bit high, I always thought, but reasonable considering the trouble and costs associated with the physical reproduction of the media.

    Now in this age of the Internet and blank DVD's priced well under $1 (even our lame Cdn $), providing that "public data" far more cheaply (and allowing copying) should be allowed.

    Instead the fees for getting large sets of map data are exorbitant. I just hope that more competitive privatized satellite photography concerns can provide a lot of this, far more economically.

    This is especially annoying, since here in Canada, we are taxed quite heavily; if you make more than $50K Cdn [30K+-ish US], your incremental tax rate is something like 50c on the dollar. Plus in some provinces, you pay 15% GST on everything you purchase; booze and gas have taxes that are astronomical (more than 100%, I believe). (Not that we Canadians drink a lot, *cough* *cough*.)

    In many cases, those tax dollars are put to great use, incredible and accessible health care (as much as we like to bitch about it, it's great), generally excellent and free highways (toll roads are fairly rare in Canada), and so forth. Granted, those are more critical than map data, but I still hope we come around on the mapping issue some day.

    • by dsanfte (443781) *

      This is especially annoying, since here in Canada, we are taxed quite heavily; if you make more than $50K Cdn [30K+-ish US], your incremental tax rate is something like 50c on the dollar.

      "As of 1999, the Canadian government only has three taxation bands, the highest of which is 29%, starting at CA$59,180. The US government taxes its second band of taxation at almost as high a rate, 28%, starting at US$25,750 for a single person. The US third band - comparable to Canada's highest band - is 31% starting at

      • When my girlfriend had to go to emergency here in Gatineau, QC for an ultrasound after having constant, severe abdominal cramping, we had to wait ten hours(!!!) to see a doctor. Things aren't ok.

        And in the US people never have to wait to see a doctor! :-)

        It's generally agreed that Quebec's provincial health care is the worst of the various Canadian provinces. While there's no doubt that Canadian health care has some problems, a few facts should be kept in mind:

        (1) Before Canada adopted national health
        • They pay significantly less and that's why the nurses are migrating to the US, maybe if they paid more Canadian nurses would be willing to stay.

          http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0999/ is _7241_320/ai_61995020

          http://www.nurseweek.com/news/features/01-06/glo ba l.html

          http://www.rescueamericanjobs.org/articles/index .p hp?info=american-nursing-shortage-global-foreign-n urses

    • Now the state I live in provides access to court documents as they are made available (usually several hours after the decision). Our court, and supporting systems is of course paid for by our tax dollars. However, if you want a copy of the documents, you have to pay about $0.50 US a page. Given the size of some cases, thats huge.

      as the above poster mentioned, why couldn't they give me a copy on CD - charge me $1.00 for the CD and send me on my way? It's because they are sneaking in a hidden tax (what

    • Sure, each city goes out and buys ArcView or whatever, and they have a heck of a time doing anything cheaply with it, but check out:

      http://www.atlas.gc.ca

      This is built on Chameleon [maptools.org], a GPL frontend for the GPL UMN mapserver [umn.edu] whose development were partially funded by Canadian and American governments, respectively, for purely selfish reasons (reducing the costs of producing GIS servers, and being able to provide more information to more groups more cheaply.)

    • I agree with what you say. However, there is usually one very good reason why public agencies do not release the information - they are not allowed to. They usually hire a contractor to get gather the information, and then they licence the orthophotography. So they don't own it, they just have a licence to use it. Governments therefore have to either be a bit more forceful about the rights that they have on the data they pay to be gathered, or they should do it themselves rather than use a commercial provid
    • by Jim_Maryland (718224) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @08:04AM (#10347693)
      I used to work for Prince George's County Maryland (as an onsite sub contractor) as both their GIS programmer and the UNIX/Win32 system administrator. The question of who has access to the data was a common question, not only concerning private citizens/corporations but even between county/state agencies.

      Aerial photography purchases were done from the budget of a couple of the agencies in the county (Maryland National Capital Parks & Planning, Dept. of Public Works, Health and Human Services, Emergency Services, Dept. of Environmental Resources, and maybe one or two more agencies). Each agency would commit a portion of the money to the collection/maintenance cost (for both aerial data and the generated vector files). Other agencies in the county who chose not to help pay for the cost of the data were often not given access to the data without some payment (not done at my level). I don't know the exact details on the public getting data, but they wouldn't have had direct access to our department anyways so I can only guess they wouldn't have any access as well.

      Now to further elaborate on the inter-county agencies, the education board wanted to do a bus routing project using the road centerline file (for E911 and Dept. of Public Works primarily). The school board didn't contribute to the aerial photograph collection and county directors would refuse to allow them access. I'm sure PG County Schools are similar to other school systems in having a limited budget so refusing access seems unreasonable to me, but you have to follow the county policy.

      Now for public access, a few problems exist with this. In general, a private citizen wouldn't have much need for the information so releasing to the public would essentially benefit a very small set of people/companies. The benefit for this small group would essentially be paid for by all tax payers. Another problem is at what point do you release the data in the collection/maintenance process? While aerial photos are essentially a "complete" product, the derived GIS data is a "living" dataset that is constantly being updated for changes since the photography. New attributes can be added to the datasets as well so the product can rarely be seen as complete. Analysis done on data must always be made with understandings of the condition of the dataset.

      OK, gotta cut this short here...

      Some counties are now looking at leasing the data from the aerial photography companies now. By leasing the data, various agreements on who has access to the data are put in place. The benefit to the county is that the data is generally provided cheaper and more frequently. The aerial photography companies benefit is that they know they'll have a regular data customer but they may also sell to private companies/citizens as well.

      As for the data being available to myself as a citizen (btw, I live in one of the counties adjacent to PG County so I have to get data for my area just like everyone else if I want it), I'm not sure that I have a need to see it. Sure, it would be neat to have the aerial photo over my house, but I can get that through an online interactive mapping site (http://terraserver.microsoft.com or the other one listed in a previous posters comment). I'm not sure that I'd need it in raw format.

      Some data is available for download. Check out agencies like USGS, Census Agency, NGA, etc....
      • "As for the data being available to myself as a citizen (btw, I live in one of the counties adjacent to PG County so I have to get data for my area just like everyone else if I want it), I'm not sure that I have a need to see it"

        This is almost surely some engineering company that wants to harvest all of the town's data to set up a for-profit service. The argument about why or why not to favor this individual is hard to settle, but both sides of the argument about "freedom of information" and "security" ar
      • by Qzukk (229616)
        available to myself as a citizen...I'm not sure that I have a need to see it.

        GIS data is useful for a lot of things. Aside from navigational systems (turn left at the next light) we use it at our company to tell people how many offices are in X miles of their house. "We" being a tax-paying company consisting of tax-paying citizens, who currently have to buy the databases and their updates.

        Now a larger question is what happens when private resources (this aerial photography company that they're looking
      • by NatHoward (109146) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @10:22AM (#10348203)
        I thought this was mostly a very helpful comment, but I wish to cast some rhetorical light on one aspect of this question.

        The poster says:

        In general, a private citizen wouldn't have much need for the information so releasing to the public would essentially benefit a very small set of people/companies.

        and

        I'm not sure that I have a need to see it.

        I would like to suggest that, while it's a legitimate philosophical question to ask, the question of whether a citizen "needs" some government information should not factor importantly into the evualuation of whether a law is good in a free society.

        The problem is that a citizen's needs are a very poor index of what he should be allowed to do or to have. For example, I don't "need" a swimming pool, but I have one. If "need" were a criterion, almost nobody would have a pool, an SUV, eat out at restaurants, vote, be able to print a newspaper, be able to buy a newspaper, send their kid to private school, or, for that matter, read slashdot.

        Our actions would be even more circumscribed if a self-interested government got to define the word "need".

        It's clear to me, btw, that the original poster wasn't talking about "need" in this way, exactly. I just wanted to make sure that the notion of "need", once introduced, wasn't used without reflection -- that is, without my 2 cents being added in!

        Now, how do I feel about whether government, having bought this information, should be compelled to disgorge this information? Why, yes! Government supposedly exists partly to internalize externalities [wikipedia.org] of exactly this sort. If government doesn't wish to become the source for that information, perhaps it should contract with private parties for appropriate summaries, rather than the complete geographic database. Alternatively, a wise government might well conclude that its citizens, are, on balance, better off if they all have at least the potential ("need" or not!) to have this information for a nominal price....

        • \I think the term need should be applied more to what the citizen plans to do with the information. I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to have a form filled out by the requester in which they must explain what the information is to be used for. If they're just doing this to tweak the local government, or prove some point, then perhaps it's not going to be worth the local government's time to bother with the request and the requester can seek legal recourse if they so wish. If there is a contractor
          • Government is "For, by and of the people" is it not? Governments raise money by taxes. Governments are instituted to *serve* the people, not the other way around. If the government buys, creates, obtains or in any way has in their possession information of any sort then that information belongs to the people and should be given to them when requested, period. Need is not an issue and having a government who can say "you can't have it, but you can" is very dangerous as you've just turned your government into
      • by shalla (642644)
        Now for public access, a few problems exist with this. In general, a private citizen wouldn't have much need for the information so releasing to the public would essentially benefit a very small set of people/companies. The benefit for this small group would essentially be paid for by all tax payers.

        I think you miss the point. It isn't whether or not a private citizen would have use for this, but rather that the government paid for it and the information SHOULD be available via a Freedom of Information r
      • by chiph (523845)
        The benefit for this small group would essentially be paid for by all tax payers

        I think you just described a large portion of goverment services, from unemployment benefits to welfare, to public transportation.

        Chip H.
      • The complication and aggravation of acquiring data like this on a town-by-town or county-by-county basis would be rendered moot if the state of Connecticut finally got its act together and instituted some sort of decent aerial imagery program.

        All neighboring states have sort some of program in place; most are very good. New York has a recurring high-res orthoimagery program. Massachusetts recently produced a high-res, state-wide dataset. Even Rhode Island has one, I think.

        But in Connecticut, we're fo

      • In general, a private citizen wouldn't have much need for the information so releasing to the public would essentially benefit a very small set of people/companies.
        On the other hand, NOT releasing to the public essentially benefits nobody. If they're already collecting it, what disadvantage is there to releasing it?
    • by thogard (43403)
      The US Govt can't own a copyright. Thats why its publications are free. This is one area where the US is ahead of other countries in copyright law.
  • by reboot246 (623534) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @07:17AM (#10347595) Homepage
    If the database was paid for with tax money, then it should be available to the taxpayers. Besides, as others have pointed out, the same information is already available in a form that would be useful to terrorists.

    I use USAPhotoMaps to access the terraserver. I have a database of aerial photos and topo maps of all the areas I work (nearly my whole state). The resolution of the photos is 1 meter per pixel and for the topo maps it's 4 meters per pixel. That info plus a program to show streets and roads makes my job much easier.

    • by anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @09:00AM (#10347864) Journal
      You sure about that logic? some other data collection paid for by public money:
      • Social insurance databases
      • Driver's license db's
      • all police investigations, regardless of whether charges are laid.
      • medicare payment treatment and payment records
      • nuclear missile plans.
      • the approved architectural plans for that nice, bombable Hoover Dam.
      • tax records of all sorts
      • how the governement recognises you, as opposed to someone pretending to be you, and gives you access to your own information...
      • military supply orders and troop movements.

        Basing the argument on the government having paid for the collection is a iffy at best. The basis should rather be based on maximizing the public good,which is, in the general case, harder to figure out. One has to weigh: privacy concerns vs. defence (against Terrorists domestic and foreign) vs. public benefit. The answer will come out different depending on what the data is, what technology is in place/reasonable, and how much the organisation is willing to spend to make the information public. How soon to make it public is also going to have a big effect on how much it costs. folks on the internet want information upto the second.

        You have a chemical spill in Seattle. You have a real-time information system for exchange among first responders who are doing their work. It hits the news and their site gets slashdotted. It's a dynamically built site, so caching by google is of no use whatever. The firemen and coast guard can no longer get information from aerial reconnaisance being done by a Canadian survey plane that happenned to be available. So they don't know where in the harbour the spill has gotten to.

        Wall it off? OK, you need a separate network accessible by city, province, state, and many branches of two national governments, as well transportation (railways, airlines) in the area, and any specialized contractors that might be called in. And it has to be setup ahead of time, and managed and funded so that it is up when a crisis happens.

        What is the cost of making that site public? Does the public need to know where there is a chemical spill? Of course they do! Should they get same information the government does on their first responder systems? Would be nice, but if the architecture/technology in place cannot answering that sort of demand, what do you do? Most people would accept as reasonable that you have a first responder system that is only available to a few, then have other systems which are used for public dissemination (aka. press conferences, other web sites, etc...)

      • Would be nice, but if the architecture/technology in place cannot answering that sort of demand, what do you do?

        You do realize that if the capacity was required, it would be put in place? It's not like people haven't figured out how to deal with /., I'm sure they can cope with a couple of hundred thousand panicking people wanting to know if their children are going to be all right.

        Heck, they could just require registration, that seems to stop most slashdotters dead in their tracks.

        Proper incident repor
        • Completely agree that people need to know, and that the information has to get out there, and that it has to get out there ASAP. The only question is, how soon is ASAP, and how much are you willing to pay to answer the requirement. "The shipment of nuclear warheads will be on I-95 mile 35 at 2:15 pm." Many people will want to be out of the area when that shipment goes past, given a choice. Others will might want to excercise their free speech rights to picket it, still others might elect to put a rocket
      • My main thought was that this is like closing the barn door after the horses have got out.

        Some of those you listed are already available to some organizations and/or businesses. For example, a private investigator can easily get his hands on your personal information. Any business doing background checks on employees can also get it. Credit reporting agencies give out your info to anyone with the ability to do a credit check. The Social Security Administration is only a little better at protecting your i
        • I remember a story about old Soviet Russia where the KGB deliberatly messed up the maps of Moscow so "spies" wouldn't be able to get accurate information. This included everything from tourist maps to plaquards in the subway system. Everyday Moscovites would know where to go, and with the high level of security they couldn't simply wander around town too much anyway.

          The ongoing joke in Moscow was that the best maps of the city were found in the American Embassy, which were commonly purchased by Taxi driv
  • Terra Server (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 25, 2004 @07:19AM (#10347597)
    If you don't mind a slightly old copy, it's all online for your viewing: Greenwich, Connecticut, United Stetes 13 April 1992 [microsoft.com]. Click away to your hearts content.
    Of, if you prefer, the Greenwich, Connecticut Topological Map, 01 July 1986 USGS [microsoft.com]
  • by ivi (126837) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @07:20AM (#10347598)

    First, we pay public servants to CREATE data,
    then we have to pay them to USE it!

    USA seemed to be better at this than we are.
  • by Quobobo (709437) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @07:33AM (#10347623)
    I'm sure the headline makes sense to some people, but not many people are going to understand FOI or GIS. I can't be the only person who thought this was about Google image search data and images at first glance.

    It's just kind of ridiculous when a native English speaker can't make sense of the headline. Please, at least explain these things in the submission.
    • by dema (103780)
      The town maintains the images in a tightly kept database known as a geographic information system, which a judge declared to be public records last December. The Connecticut Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear the town's appeal of that ruling, expediting the case by leap-frogging the state Appellate Court. The move virtually coincides with the third anniversary of the initial complaint in the case, which Greenwich resident and computer consultant Stephen Whitaker filed with the state Freedom In
      • Geographic information system, yes. Even though it's not capitalized or anything (which would go a long way towards clarifying things), I'll concede that you're right about that. But how on earth am I supposed to associate FOI with something listead as FIC (Freedom Information Commission) in the summary? That's just ridiculous, and shows the quality of writing on Slashdot. Real newspapers don't have writing like this, and for good reason.
  • by arb (452787) <amosba&gmail,com> on Saturday September 25, 2004 @07:39AM (#10347635) Homepage
    From my reading of the article, he wants to use them for commercial reasons. He has asked for an entire copy of the GIS data and aerial photographical maps. That's a lot of data which would be expensive for anyone to generate. Has he offered to purchase the information, or is he expecting to kick start his business with free information paid for by the city?

    Surely if he had a legitimate business idea, he would be willing to pay other data providers for the information he wants. There are several mapping, GIS and photographical companies that would no doubt love to supply him with the data he requires at a reasonable cost.

    If this was a software company trying to use GPL'd software to build up a closed source business, people here would be up in arms.
    • by samael (12612) <Andrew@Ducker.org.uk> on Saturday September 25, 2004 @08:02AM (#10347687) Homepage
      The City _is_ the people. If the city has made something then it should be freely available to all of its citizens - they paid for it.

      And if people want to use GPL software to help run their close-source business, then that's great - so long as they release any changes along with the binary.
      • And if people want to use GPL software to help run their close-source business, then that's great - so long as they release any changes along with the binary.

        Any company can take any GPLed code and use it internally for their business processes. Then can tweak the code all they want and never give away one line of code as long as the code is used internally. However, if that company tries to distribute a binary outside of their company, then yes, they would have to release the source code. The company

      • So now everyone in the city is compelled to invest in this guy's new venture?
        • No. I can't see how you got to that.

          The city has, for whatever reason, obtained some information. They can either keep that information secret from the people who have _already_ paid for it. Or they can _share_ that information with _anyone_ who wants it.

          Which one makes everyone richer?
        • So now everyone in the city is compelled to invest in this guy's new venture?

          Everyone in the city has ALREADY paid for the photographs.

          As part of the FOIA request, he has to pay any costs involved with duplication.

          The cost, to taxpayers, of this man's request is ZERO.

          The only legitimate issue that is raised here is one of privacy.
          On that topic the gov't is in a sticky place.
          If they try to claim that giving him these pictures will violate other citizen's privacy rights, then they are admitting t
    • by GPSguy (62002) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @08:24AM (#10347762) Homepage
      Trying to add a little bit of sanity to this line...

      Producing the data are expensive. Often, as well, the aerial imagery companies will retain ownership of the images (often not photos anymore) or ramp the costs of the service and imagery 'way up beyond what the city or state can afford. There's historical precedent to this, back when most of us didn't care or want those data...

      He's asking for the whole database. Likely, if it's a reasonably designed GIS database, there's data of a tax/ownership nature that shouldn't be released electronically... if at all. There are some things about my taxes I don't see a reason for you to know, and if they're included therein (and they might be in a "reasonable" but not necessarily in a "good" design) then request was out of line.

      In Texas, all GIS data derived with public funds but not restricted by contractual obligations are released as public data, or available from the various agencies upon request. (http://www.tnris.state.tx.us/ [state.tx.us])

      This may change with restrictions and recommendations from the Feds bout reducing access to critical infrastructure data. For a variety of reasons, I can go either way on this. although I'm currently the "data wants to be free" guy in that duscussion.

      That said, some of the GIS data we have in Texas on critial infrastructure and critical industries DOES come pretty close to qualifying for "due diligence" on the part of a terrorist. They'd get all the needed to mine the bridge, or do maximum damage to the chemical plant. Should we make it easy?

      Finally, on the costs associated with requesting "free" data from state agencies: I've seen the numbers and have gotten the patient explanations on why they're so high. Let's say a CD-RW disk is $.25. Then you have to have a GIS analyst retrieve the data and place it in the burn directory. If it were something like, "Send me the whole database" this is relatively easy. Then you have to have someone burn the CD. Or CDs. The agency, at least in Texas, is required by State law to recover costs using a formula that incorporates the direct and indirect costs of the individuals doing the work, on a per-hour basis, shipping, and a depreciation allowance for the equipment, again prorated. A little bit here, a little bit there, eventually the CD costs $75, which was what TNRIS charged last time I went there rather than downloading the data directly...

      There will be a quiz next hour.
      • by base3 (539820) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @10:06AM (#10348125)
        there's data of a tax/ownership nature that shouldn't be released electronically... if at all.

        I don't know about Greenwich, but in my jurisdiction, property tax and ownership data are public record (and are available for online lookup, as public records should be). What is your argument for non-disclosure of real estate ownership records? Whatever it is, I bet the public interest trumps it.

        The major point in the problem described in this thread, though, is that Greenwich knowingly created a public record, and now wants to refuse to disclose it. They sould like they're saying "Oh, we knew it was public record, but it was only public to people in the know. We wouldn't actually want the public to have unfettered access to the data."

      • by budgenator (254554) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @10:22AM (#10348201) Journal
        This may change with restrictions and recommendations from the Feds bout reducing access to critical infrastructure data.
        A worrisome aspect of that is the fact that the info missing is often as revealing as the info present.

        If I were of neferious purpose, I'd be more conserned with the "black-areas" than the illuminated. In my area, there are places where an attack one an infrasturcter facility could stop the water going to millions of people or power going to an area the size of the last blackout.
    • Has he offered to purchase the information, or is he expecting to kick start his business with free information paid for by the city?

      This doesn't seem to be about payment. Read the article again. The town has claimed that the materials' release presented an immediate danger to the community.
    • I work for a county that gets lots of requests like this. The county spends a lot of tax dollars to hire consultants to do the flights and correct the data.

      We make the photos available on the web via a GIS application, so anyone can use it for casual purposes.

      Usually when we get a request for the entire collection of photos, it is from a commercial outfit. They are usually NOT located within the county, so they haven't paid any tax dollars directly to the county. If we give this data out, it is a HUGE cos
      • Wouldn't you want your local unit of government to help keep taxes down by raising additional revenues by selling this data?

        Having worked for local government (in the planning and development areas, so I do know about this issue) I agree wholeheartedly with you. We had numerous people coming in requesting complete databases containing all sorts of information which they intended to use for commercial purposes. We had no problems with individuals seeking a reasonable amount of data for legitimate purposes,
    • Even if they have to release the information to the public, aren't they still the copyright-holders?

      A "for-noncommercial-use-only" tag should do the trick, maybe with the option for a commercial license?
      • Government created data can't be copyrighted. Of course, there's a huge loophole--the Federal government, for example, can hold copyright if the copyright is "donated." Of course, the government pays a contractor to create a big database, then asks the contractor to "donate" the database to the government. Not as bad as the UK, though, where the laws are subject to "Crown Copyright."
    • Has he offered to purchase the information, or is he expecting to kick start his business with free information paid for by the city?

      It's implicit that he'll pay for it. When you do an FOIA request, you do have to pay reasonable fees for the duplication of the information. Otherwise, people would abuse the system.

  • trying to keep yourself secure with secrets won't help you any, it will just make you think you're secure when really you're more vunerable because of your arrogance
  • by RomSteady (533144) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @11:02AM (#10348392) Homepage Journal

    I work for Layton City [laytoncity.org] in Utah, and we are preparing to release an interactive GIS database viewer client sometime in the next month.

    The hardest part has been determining what data should be available to the public. Release of some of the data is controlled under a Utah state law called GRAMA, which stands for the Government Records Access and Management Act. It tells us what information about our citizens we are able to release, and why. Property ownership information, detailed floorplans, etc., could all be considered protected under GRAMA if read correctly.

    To start with, we're going to be releasing a limited version of our "center line" file. The "center line" file is essentially a file of imaginary lines running down the center of a map. That file has addressing information, so we can use it for address location and pathfinding, but the full version of the file also includes police patrol areas, emergency response information, and lots of other easily abused information as associated metadata with each polyline.

    One other issue here is space. Layton is a relatively small town, bound to the north and south by cities, to the east by a mountain, and to the west by the Great Salt Lake and another city. Even with that, our full GIS database (if exported to shape files) is several hundred gigabytes.

  • The NYC government has a huge capacity fiber loop it gets from the telcos licensed to do biz in the City. Not even the government committee that oversees the department which operates the loop can get a map of the loop for planning, because of "security" concerns. That's working so well, that we're shredding all the subway maps, and covering their entrances with concrete.
  • Who's going to bomb Greenwich, CT? No one knows what it looks like on TV, so it can't be a terrorist target. But then, NY state is #35 of 50 states in the amount of money the Department of Fatherland Security hands out to protect us from terrorism.
  • http://www.accessclarkcounty.com/assessor/assessor .htm

    The county also shares GIS data between utilities (water, sewer, gas, etc) but that data is considered confidential. Kinda easy to figure out why...
  • by nusratt (751548) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @12:23PM (#10348890) Journal
    Last week I called our town's Health Dep't. to ask to see records of permits for water-wells and septic-systems on 14 properties from the last 3 years.
    At first they tried to brush me off by saying I needed to file an FOIA request.
    In this case it wasn't security, merely civil-service laziness.
  • I worked for the municipal engineering department of the city that I live in a number of years ago and we had similar issues with our stock of aerial photographs of the city.

    The issue never required adjudication, if I recall correctly, but the city engineer's stand at the time was that we didn't give full sets out simply because we'd paid for them, and giving them away for free to contractors or others was simply bad economics. If others wanted a complete set, then let them bear the cost themselves.

    There

Heuristics are bug ridden by definition. If they didn't have bugs, then they'd be algorithms.

Working...