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Court Rules GIS Data Can't Be Kept Secret 269

Posted by Zonk
from the can't-hide-from-the-survey dept.
Silverbear writes "In an update from a Slashdot story posted in January, The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that there is not a significant security risk to the town of Greenwich in making its GIS Data available to the public, and therefore must do so. Greenwich had claimed that the data could compromise personal and national security, and was sued under CT Freedom of Information laws. The legal ruling is available."
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Court Rules GIS Data Can't Be Kept Secret

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  • For the lazy people who are google-impaired, WTF is GIS?
    • Re:ok now (Score:5, Informative)

      by MankyD (567984) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:51PM (#12874737) Homepage
      Geographic Information Systems (I believe)

      It's basically maps - elevation, road, land cover, buildings, that sort of stuff.
      • More than that. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fireboy1919 (257783) <rustyp.freeshell@org> on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @03:10PM (#12874925) Homepage Journal
        As a software developer at a GIS company, I can tell you that it's all spatial information. Modern GIS data often includes names & addresss, parcel information, communities, etc.

        Basically, think of it as a new kind of database. One that is capable of generating maps.

        And just like any other database, it could have who knows what in it. Some information is very private, and some isn't.
        • "Ladies and gentleman, do not worry, the data collcted from you will be made public - but we are sure marketers will not call or mail you any products you do not choose."

          Oh did I mention, yesterday I got four letters to consolidate my student loands and two letters to get a parent plus loan. I don't have kids, and i consolidated my student loans about five years ago (and you cannot reconsolidate).
    • From the article: "Geographic Information System" == "GIS"
    • Geographic Information Systems
    • Re:ok now (Score:3, Informative)

      by RandomLetters (892800)

      From google "define gis"

      is the abbreviation for geographic information system. GIS are special-purpose digital databases in which a common spatial coordinate system is the primary means of reference. GIS contain subsystems for: 1) data input; 2) data storage, retrieval, and representation; 3) data management, transformation, and analysis; and 4) data reporting and product generation. It is useful to view GIS as a process rather than a thing. A GIS supports data collection, analysis, and decision making and

    • GIS==Geographical Information Systems, oh Google-impaired one.

      See Tigerline [census.gov]and GRASS [grass.itc.it] for examples of data and software, respectively.

    • Re:ok now (Score:5, Informative)

      by xmas2003 (739875) * on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:56PM (#12874791) Homepage
      GIS = Geographic Information Systems ... here's a decent writeup from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] ... basically allows you to analyze data in terms of location and draw inferences from it. So for instance, based on rainfall patterns, you can predict where grass will grow ;-) [watching-grass-grow.com]
    • by mikael (484)
      Geographic Information System

      Every piece of information any person or company who wants to dig a hole somewhere needs to know without electrocuting themselves, starting a flood, causing a gas explosion or disrupting communication between air traffic controllers and the airports (at least in theory).

      Thus these databases not only store ground height information, contour lines, but the locations and addresses of buildings, offices, factories, power lines, substations, pylons, underground electricity cables,
    • For the lazy people who are google-impaired, WTF is GIS?

      Google Image Search. Duh!
      I'm not sure why they want to keep google image searches secrets to hide from terrorists though...

      [/sarcasm]

      Yes, I did read the replies that explained what GIS meant in this instance, but that was what I thought before I came in, scrolled down, and looked for one of the necessary and redundant explanations.
      For crying out loud, Slashdot! Don't use uncommon acronyms over and over without telling us what they are, or an idea
      • ... a more common, mundane meaning ...

        Geographic Information System is a meaning that predates the existence of Google by at least a decade, probably two. Your own failure to be aware of it does not make it arcane.
        • a more common, mundane meaning ...

          Geographic Information System is a meaning that predates the existence of Google by at least a decade, probably two. Your own failure to be aware of it does not make it arcane.


          So, on a daily basis, more people use the Geographic Information System than Google then? Or did I say "common and mundane" and not "older"?
          Your own failure to know the meaning of the words I use don't make me wrong, jerk.
  • by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:47PM (#12874705) Homepage
    So, tax information (boundaries and assessments), streets and address ranges, future land-use plans, city/county boundaries, building permits, census data, and waterways information. Yes, obviously all these is sensitive data that needs to be protected from possible terrorists.

    Believe me people, if the terrorists wanted to poison the water supply they wouldn't need the GIS data to figure out how to do it. They also probably really don't care about the Census data to figure out population centers (especially in Greenwich). I highly doubt they care about tax information like assessment values and boundaries as Greenwich is all high-cost living for the most part.

    GIS data should be freely examinable. We paid for it as taxpayers and even helped to contribute the data (Census) so why shouldn't we be able to access it? In fact, Portland's $900 for the data is too steep. It should be free for non-commercial use IMHO.

    Next they'll make it all available but in a ROT-13 CSV file so they can protect it under the DMCA! Blah.

    At least the courts knew better this time and ruled in favor of open information that the public paid for.
    • At least the courts knew better this time and ruled in favor of open information that the public paid for.

      What is it with the "this time" stuff? After a case goes through the full process of being heard, being appealed, and being heard at higher courts, it's reasonably certain that the outcome is correct according to the law. If the courts produce a decision you don't like, then you probably need to look to your lawmakers, not your justices.

      Of course, most of the "decisions" that people complain about around here never go to court. i.e. The case procedes as:

      1. Person get cease and desist or notices a rights violation.

      2. Lots of complaining about how bad the courts are, and how they're all in Bush's/Clinton's/Jimmy Carter's pocket.

      3. Case never goes to court, despite the law actually stating the "correct answer".

      4. More complaining about how bad the courts are.

      Yeash people. Believe it or not, the US court system does tend to work correctly.

      Ok, I'm done with my rant now. You can mod me offtopic. (Because I am.)
      • by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @03:05PM (#12874883) Homepage
        Yeash people. Believe it or not, the US court system does tend to work correctly.

        It tends to work correctly on shit that really doesn't matter (i.e. GIS data). It doesn't seem to work very well for civil rights violations such as the Patriot Act.

        Yes, the people should stand up and revolt against the Patriot Act and those lawmakers, regime leaders, and officers of the court that aren't doing anything to stop it. Should we get bent out of shape over GIS data? No.

        This is a step in the right direction showing that the information does need to be public even if someone uses the word "sensitive" or "terrorism".
        • by sangreal66 (740295) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @03:54PM (#12875357)
          It tends to work correctly on shit that really doesn't matter (i.e. GIS data). It doesn't seem to work very well for civil rights violations such as the Patriot Act.
          That is because the court does not arbitrarily decide the validity of laws. A case has to be brought by someone affected by the law first. Since the patriot act hasn't been as widely abused as some would have you believe, it hasn't been significantly tested in the courts.

          Also, some parts of the patriot act have been found unconstitutional [washingtonpost.com].
        • And that's kind of the problem. It's revolting how much the general public doesn't care until it interrupts their daily routines... which leads me to make a prediction:

          The moment people realize they can't record their favorite TV shows or televised events the way they used to, then you'll have the public's attention. And when it comes to light that they could have stopped it from happening or that they can band together to make that change happen, the broadcast flag rules might just go away in the event
      • Defiantly works , so long as you have money to fight it out in court / can generate enough media hype to get a lawyer to represent you for the sheer celebrity factor.
    • I know why people try to horde GIS data here, and I suspect it may be the same in Greenwich. GIS data is extremely expensive to create and work with, because the software involved tends to have very expensive per-user annual fees associated with it.

      Now, you're thinking, "but my tax dollars paid that bill!"

      Probably, yes. However, the tax dollars are apportioned in different amounts to different groups within government. Some group has to fight hard to justify a budget allocation big enough to cover their G
    • Second that. However, the town tried to weasel out of giving the GIS data by using a completely different security claim: rather than asserting they didn't have to release the data because it could be used for bad purposes, they relied on a statutory exemption for information that would "pose a threat to the security of the town's information technology system" (emphasis mine). I think this exemption was put it to prevent the disclosure of /etc/passwd , not /mount/data/GIS/.
    • "GIS Data" is a fantastically broad term (any data with a spatial component), and basically a useless distinction in deciding if data is sensitive... I'm pretty sure whatever Greenwich didn't want to share is not what you think, as all the examples on your list are publicly available already, mostly from the US Census for the cost of reproduction & shipping.
      The article doesn't make it clear what the data in question was; On the other hand, I'm not sure what Greenwich even could have that would be sens
  • So what's the point in hiding "public" information.

    Its like banning "google maps".
    • by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:54PM (#12874766) Homepage
      So what's the point in hiding "public" information. Its like banning "google maps".

      It's worse. Google is a for-profit company that creates software solutions for the public using public data. If they are charged for the use of the GIS data, fine.

      The public, who paid for and even submitted the information stored in the GIS databases, should be able to freely examine and use the information as they see fit. There should be no restrictions on this, especially monetary or it will be another double-fuck fleecing of the public.

      Yay, we paid for the taxes to collect this data and wasted our free time giving you Census information and now we have to pay to see it used in a useful manner?

      If someone banned Google Maps I wouldn't really care. If the governments continue to close up our free access to information I will continue to get annoyed.
  • by mister_llah (891540) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:52PM (#12874745) Homepage Journal
    I am actually quite surprised this ruling occurred... I was listening to a news story on NPR a couple of days ago about some people taking pictures near bridges/with bridges in the background, or with other things around (like oil refineries, or in one instance, the FBI building was in the background) ... but these people had their film confiscated... ... and that's just for taking pictures casually... but who knows, maybe Conneticuit courts figure "Eh, we're not New York" ...

    ===

    Not that I think we should be paranoid, I think this hysteria over terrorism is exactly what both sides want (the government gets to take more control and the terrorists get to disrupt our way of life and our happiness) ... I think its ridiculous... but... I am just surprised...
    • NPR link (Score:3, Informative)

      http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?story Id=4705698 [npr.org]

      and here is a link to a blog that refers to the photographer's rights: http://blog.photoblogs.org/2004/06/photographers_r .html [photoblogs.org]

      • Hey, cool :) -- thanks, I didn't get to finish that story because I was getting into class...

        ^_^
    • Yeah just like my little brother who was studying for one year in the usa. Taking photos is just his hobby.

      He only took some black and white shots of a dead tree standing near a parking lot near a carnival in L.A. just after closing time.
      Within minutes he was surrounded by security guards and little time later he was taken away by the fbi.
      It seems there was a little powerhouse behind the tree which was on the list of suspected terrorist targets. They questioned him for 4 hours until he could go.

      My younger
    • Not that I think we should be paranoid, I think this hysteria over terrorism is exactly what both sides want (the government gets to take more control and the terrorists get to disrupt our way of life and our happiness)

      I dunno, sounds a bit paranoid to me.
      • If I'm paranoid its with good cause, I was walking to class this morning and this guy hammering shingles in on the roof of one of the buildings I passed kept saying he was going to kill me.

        Why oh WHY did I ever have to learn morse code?! :~~(
    • Yeah, I had a cop go all NYPD Blue on me for taking pitcures of the Oakland Bay Bridge at night.

      Guy parks his cruiser like 50 feet away sneaks up on me (I see him coming, he thinks he fucking Sam Fisher or something all crouched down and running from shrub to shrub. Then he gets to me whips on his gun in one hand. (it was pointed down atleast) his flashlight right in my eyes.

      He's all like what are doing here. What are taking pictures off!"

      "dude its for night photography for a class I'm taking. Could you

    • I think I have officially reached the point where I am more afraid of my government's "response" to terrorism than I am of terrorism itself. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
    • with other things around (like oil refineries, or in one instance, the FBI building was in the background) ... but these people had their film confiscated...

      What do the cops do to you if you look at FBI buildings or oil refineries in satellite images on Google maps?
  • by suitepotato (863945) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:54PM (#12874762)
    I live in CT and have worked in Greenwich. They live in another dimension of reality there, entirely contained in their heads. They don't act as though they believe themselves to be part of CT, they have police preventing access to taxpayer funded town owned roads because they don't want commoners going near the wealthy and famous, and have the state's largest concentration of arrogant self-important snobs outside of the Avon-Simsbury region.

    If the other 168 municipalities have to be wide open to publicly availible taxpayer funded satellite scans then so should they. I have a feeling however that they will keep on fighting this decision until Hell freezes over.
  • This is excellent. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NaruVonWilkins (844204) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:54PM (#12874776)
    One of the things Keyhole wanted to do before they were purchased was to integrate real estate data - taxes, boundaries on land parcels, etc - into their database. If Google wants to continue with this, this court ruling could make it easier for them to do so.
  • Hey... (Score:2, Funny)

    by ilyanep (823855)
    You don't need a picture of the floorplan of a large office building to ram a plane in to it.
  • by RobotRunAmok (595286) * on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:56PM (#12874792)
    For those joining us from overseas and parts West, Greenwich, Connecticut is among the more -- what's the word? -- 'tony' of digs. Sort of like a Beverly Hills for the New York glitter- and media-rati who don't like the feel of sand between their toes out in the Hamptons.
    • For those joining us from overseas and parts West, Greenwich, Connecticut is among the more -- what's the word? -- 'tony' of digs. Sort of like a Beverly Hills for the New York glitter- and media-rati who don't like the feel of sand between their toes out in the Hamptons.

      Generically, Greenwich is one of about 169 municipalities in the state of CT.

      Specifically, it has become overrun with the sort of rich people that give rich people a bad name. The sort of charicatures that leftists and arachists alway
    • Stay out of Greenwich's data, Lebowski! Stay out of Greenwich's data, deadbeat!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:56PM (#12874794)
    We, the public, paid for the government bureaucracy that gathered this data. We shouldn't have to pay for it again when we want to look at it. Kudos to the judge in this case.

  • I dont mind seeing parcel & associated information available as public information but I really would rather not disclose information on things like water and gas pipelines, other critical below-ground infrastructure (above ground probably shouldnt be given out either, but is not that hard to reverse engineer that data, just drive around).
    • So when you want to dig in your own back yard you can't call the city and say "can I dig here, or will I hit a gas line?" because you might be a terrorist.

      Restricting access to information is retarded. Rules should deal with actions, not with information.
      • Wow, you've never heard of Call Before You Dig? See, there is a phone number you call. 1-800-CALL-USA. All the utilities will come out and mark their lines on your property. Its not that hard.
      • Ah, but you have it backwards.

        It's one thing to ask about your backyard, it's another thing entirely to ask about everybody's backyards.

        I move into a house with a burglar alarm. I might well call the police and ask if the alarm is connected to their systems. Reasonable question, especially if I could show that I in fact live at that address.

        Now I call them back and ask, "Say, who else has alarms connected to your system?"

        Not really the same question, is it? The first is a Harry Homeowner request, the

    • terrorists generally don't have the means to destroy the underground infrastructure anyway. On the other hand, if you're China or Russia, a one megaton ground burst within a few thousand meters of gas or water lines will probably back up the customer service call lines......
    • I really would rather not disclose information on things like water and gas pipelines,

      What if I want to dig a hole? I should just dig and hope I don't cut off power/water/phone service to the whole neighbourhood?

      • Like I said in another post, there is the Call Before You Dig service in the USA. You call a phone number and utilities will come out and mark their lines on your property.
    • Except that gas pipeline information is easily obtainable. Just check the EBB's that FERC requires all interstate companies to use.

      And you might also notice the swath of cleared land and meter stations along it, along with compressors and taps. Who gives a crap about a piddling residential line when you could easily find one of the main pipelines that services the northeast? These things carry billions of cubic feet of gas EVERY DAY.
  • by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @03:05PM (#12874885) Journal
    I used to work in GIS and the recurring issue was: Information generated using public funds should be made publicly available. In the old days we would provide data so long as they paid for the media and the wages of the staff to generate the area in questiona and the computer operator for cutting the tape.

    When I worked for Washington State Department of Natural Resources [wa.gov], they had a formal system for selling their data that included a licensing agreement! Not sure if it was ever challenged in court or how they were able to justify licensing their data.

    BTM
  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @03:07PM (#12874899) Homepage Journal
    ...why don't they just cover their entire property with cammo netting? :)
  • In some town on Long Island, they copyrighted their GIS data and tried to refuse to supply it under NYS's FOIL (Freedom Of Information Law). They were sued and lost, but .... were allowed to keep their copyright. So now the people who receive the data can only republish it if they don't violate the town's copyright. Blah.
    -russ
  • I really don't see the reason for the restrictions. If someone wanted location information, they would just drive there and record the figures their $100 GPS reciever spit out. More than close enough for a missle or something of the kind.

    BWP
  • by WAR-Ink (876414) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @03:14PM (#12874961)
    Greenwich: "If we make this information public, Saddam might bomb our latte shops."
    Court: "Saddam is in jail."
    Greenwich: "We meant Iran. There is great personal risk to our over-priced coffee industry."
    Court: "I think you can survive."
    Greenwich: "What about trade secrets. A map of our town is a trade secret."
    Court: "You are aware that they are available at the corner gas station for a dollar fifty, right?"
    Greenwich: "Not the electronic kind."
    Court: "...which is free at Mapquest."
    Greenwich: "You are abusing your authority!"
    Court: "Get out before I have you shot."
    Greenwich: "The next time you are drinking an double express mocha and a AGM-154 JSOW lands on you, just remember, we told you so."
    Court: "Next case!"
    • Court: "Bailiff?"
      Balifff: "Yes?"
      Court: "Judging from the name, Greenwich likely voted for Ralph Nader, and is a Satanist. Please take the prisoner to Gitmo."
      Baliff: "Gladly, Worm, your honor!"
      Court: "Now, call the schoolmaster!"
  • Now the great and terrible secrets of Geeks In Space will be available to us all! Muahahahaha!!!
  • Great - now NYC can finally declassify its subway maps, even though terrorists could use them to destroy America.
    • You don't mean their transit maps [mta.info], do you? They've been up for several years now.
      • Of course they have. That kind of absurd dissonance is one way to tell "sarcasm", without ruining its effect by explicitly stating it. Now, maybe you can explain to me why the NYC IT department keeps its fiber maps secret from other government agencies trying to get access, on the basis of "security". /nonsarcasm
    • Great - now NYC can finally declassify its subway maps, even though terrorists could use them to destroy America.

      NYC can still protect themselves by obfuscating the data. For example, they could have the maps designed by a committee. Bureaucratic committees are one of the most successful tools for obfuscating data.

      If they need the highest level of security, they might considering adding several PhD candidates to the committee. That should make the subway maps to just about everyone.

      • Actually, for years the MTA has been successful in obfuscating the published maps. Every station, every route of our thousands of miles of tracks are shown. But veterans still have the edge in getting there, faster than any but the most talented tourists.
  • Having been involved in this situation some time ago, it's not really that the data is a security issue but that cash-strapped agencies have no time or staffing to make the data available in a format ready for public consumption. So there's a nautral tendency to just say no initially. Now they have to preen the data for sensitive information like SSNs, probably export it in a format that anyone off the street and not just other users of their brand if GIS can use, burn one-off CDROMs or worse tapes, and wor
  • Google Maps (Score:2, Funny)

    by zifferent (656342)
    Man even Google doesn't have close-in satelite imagery of the place.

    It's like the porn channel on cable and nobody has a subscription. You cross a line an you go from crystal clear images to scrambled at the edges and then it changes to

    "We're sorry, but we don't
    have information at this zoom
    level for this region.

    Try zooming out for a broader look."

    Where does Google get their images from and how powerful are these people that they get their area wiped off of the map?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @06:05PM (#12876437)
    I have worked and setup numerous GIS systems across the country and the most common reason for local officials to ask for some system of blocking free use of GIS is not security or personal privacy or commercialization (private companies selling public data). It is to thwart public interest groups from finding out egregious local land-use and zoning practices. It also is to keep local real-estate and land speculators happy.

    For some reason, they see providing any local information for "free" as a threat to their free-wheeling and dealing. Because GIS exoses local environmental violations, incompatible land-use practices, zoning violations, land holdings and conglomeration, and so forth. In recent years, GIS has helped to show redlining in communities (keeping poor people out of rich neighborhoods), gerrymandering school and election districts, and so forth.

    Some cities mainly use GIS for fine tuning when and where to ticket parking violators. Washington DC was big on this. Some states (like Michigan) ban such practices, but by and large, local governments use GIS for activities that have not been fully sanctioned. Yet they are loathe to share GIS data with anyone else. For instance in Atlanta, they don't even share this information with other departments within the city or regional government. Their protectionist attitude puts to shame IP litigation we now see in the tech field.

    I made most of my money in not setting up GIS systems, but how to keep the data away from public, public officials, and citizens' groups. The major software companies, mainly ESRI, have helped in this endeavor by creating tools to work around easy sharing. Only recently with OpenGIS and other initiatives, did this stranglehold began to loosen.

    Anyway, needless to say, I don't work in this field anymore. And I sleep well now.

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