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Town Fights FOI Request for GIS Data and Images

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the civic-duty dept.

The Courts 243

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."

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Go team! (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347432)

wait, which side are we for?

GIS? (2, Funny)

Xenex (97062) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347437)

We haven't seen that [thesync.com] around here for far too long...

Frost Pist! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347439)

Dump George W. Bush.

Re:Frost Pist! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347528)

When George W Bush gets his second term, he will dump on you.

Fucking traitor. 10 out of 10 terrorists agree: "Anybody but Bush".

Re:Frost Pist! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347654)

Go back to Goatse, fucktard!

Uhh (3, Funny)

skitzoid (moomoo) (769245) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347465)

Uhhh those photos with me a betty the sheep on the farm uhh we were just playing leap frog

Froggy Style (1)

Prince Vegeta SSJ4 (718736) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347638)

Not to be confused with Doggy Style, yet very similiar. So you are basically admitting to what you are trying to deny. :)

I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (5, Insightful)

vertical_98 (463483) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347467)

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

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (2, Funny)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347593)

We used to to be the most loved country in the world
For the benefit of a non-historian: when was this?

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347603)

"We used to to be the most loved country in the world
For the benefit of a non-historian: when was this?"

In the same way that Nero considered himself the best-loved emperor.

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (2, Insightful)

Trailwalker (648636) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347637)

June 6, 1944

Even the French liked us that day.

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (3, Insightful)

intnsred (199771) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347758)

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.

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (3, Insightful)

at_18 (224304) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347653)

From 12 september 2001 until bush started talking about invading Iraq.

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (2, Insightful)

RWerp (798951) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347769)

Even a bit earlier: until Bush started pushing around everyone who wanted to help him in Afghanistan.

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (0, Troll)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348160)

I would say there's a big distinction between "loved" and "pitied".

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (1)

Sirch (82595) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347658)

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?

Re:I'm waiting for the 'Think about the Children' (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347695)

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?

the simple fact is (0, Troll)

John_Allen_Mohammed (811050) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347469)

We need to protect our freedom loving christian nation safe from the evil within. Data & information of this nature must be kept out of the public hands in these perilous times, lest we forget what happened on September 11th when 19 arab muslims brought their hellish dreams to our peaceful nation :~( You might object with the familiar old slashdot line, "security through obscurity ! it doesn't work!" There is nothing obscure here, as this information does not exist anywhere else. This is the master copy, so there is quite a bit of security here.

I will rest easier tonight just knowing that Al Queda's attempts to hijack this nation and bring it down have been foiled again.

Sa'laam Alaekim, to all /. readers.

Re:the simple fact is (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347472)

Hello, John.

Here's the secret message [mbnet.fi] .

READ!!!!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347500)

Re:READ!!!!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347507)

mmm fag blue

FOIA Requests and the AG (5, Informative)

justzisguy (573704) | more than 10 years ago | (#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?

Re:FOIA Requests and the AG (4, Funny)

flossie (135232) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347531)

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!

Re:FOIA Requests and the AG (1)

justzisguy (573704) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347558)

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.

Re:FOIA Requests and the AG (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347577)

"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?

Re:FOIA Requests and the AG (1)

ahknight (128958) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347794)

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.

Re:FOIA Requests and the AG (2, Insightful)

praksys (246544) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347629)

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.

Re:FOIA Requests and the AG (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347901)

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...

Re:FOIA Requests and the AG (2, Insightful)

anthony_dipierro (543308) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347633)

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.

Re:FOIA Requests and the AG (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347640)

Uh... so the government's out to protect my privacy, and the DoJ will do whatever it can to support an agency with a defensible position. How terrible.

Could there be FEMA CONCENTRATION CAMPS? (0, Offtopic)

plaid747 (675689) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347537)

See link. "800 prison camps in the United States, all fully operational and ready to receive prisoners. They are all staffed and even surrounded by full-time guards, but they are all empty. These camps are to be operated by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) should Martial Law need to be implemented in the United States" More Follows... http://www.utah.indymedia.org/news/2003/07/5561_co mment.php?theme=default/ [indymedia.org]

Re:Could there be FEMA CONCENTRATION CAMPS? (1)

mikestro (60854) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348248)

Anyone who believes this is frankly a kook. I LIVE right next to Richard's Gabauer airport in Missouri. Internment camp my ass. It's an airforce base that's been closed down and converted to a huge Distribution Center for trucking.

We must act! (2, Funny)

Gentlewhisper (759800) | more than 10 years ago | (#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!

Re:We must act! (1)

flossie (135232) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347562)

Ok folks, if those bastards steal any more of our rights again, everybody aim your rifle into the sky.

OK, rifles at the ready. Whatever the court decides, don't let the bastards steal citizens' rights to [privacy|information]

Um... (3, Informative)

Tito (95523) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347556)

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

Re:Um... (4, Informative)

Sunspire (784352) | more than 10 years ago | (#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... (3, Funny)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 10 years ago | (#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?

Re:Um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347649)

I was going to say don't forget about even microsoft's terraserver (terraserver.microsoft.com) or just terraserver.com its self (which personally I think sucks but it does have those sat photos of area 51)

Re:Um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10348062)

My county has a searchable GIS interface online [pwcgov.org] for free.
Apparently, you can order [pwcgov.org] subsets of the data on cd also for a fee.

Maps want to be free! (4, Interesting)

PhotoGuy (189467) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347589)

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.

Re:Maps want to be free! (0, Offtopic)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347610)

Has there ever been a single post by a Canadian on Slashdot that doesn't go on and on about how Canada rules and USA sucks? I'm serious, now.

Re:Maps want to be free! (1, Informative)

dsanfte (443781) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347650)

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 US$62,450 for a single person."

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),


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. What if it was an ectopic pregnancy? She could have died waiting.

generally excellent and free highways (toll roads are fairly rare in Canada)


Yes excellent roads, that's why cities are running defecits just keeping their transit systems going, and chomping at the bit for a share of a 2.5% tax on gas so they can finally fill some potholes.

I'm sorry, I'm Canadian, but painting a rosy picture of what's wrong with our country in some egotistical cherade aimed at impressing Americans is no different from Americans claiming they have they greatest democracy on earth, while their supreme court is deciding elections. Just stop, please.

Re:Maps want to be free! (2, Informative)

intnsred (199771) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347798)

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 care, the average life expectancy of Americans exceeded the average life expectancy of Canadians.

(2) Now, the average life expectancy of Canadians exceeds that of Americans by more than 4 years.

(3) Canadians, as a whole, pay significantly less for health care than Americans do.

Similiar to getting court documents (2, Insightful)

Prince Vegeta SSJ4 (718736) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347657)

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 else would it be when the government charges for the same service twice)

It is reasonable to me that I pay for the small amount of time it takes a government employee to make a copy, but in these days of auto feeding copy machines and CD's - the prices they charge are way out of line.

I say it again: HIDDEN TAX

What makes it worse is that you search for the court cases on OLD outdated IBM PS/2's running some form of outdated software that can barely do a two word search and return ANY results. Most of the time you have to have the EXACT spelling of the name to get results.

Re:Maps want to be free! Eh? GPL GIS! (2, Informative)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347672)

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.)

Re:Maps want to be free! (1)

Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347676)

even our lame Cdn $

OT, yeah, but I dunno why everyone's so down on the Canadian vs US dollar... I mean the dollar is weak as hell against the Euro and you don't see us strutting around...

Re:Maps want to be free! Cdn concern with US$ exch (1)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347752)


uh... perhaps because

86% of Canadian foreign trade is with the US , so everybody in Canada notices
the differences in that particular exchange rate.

Re:Maps want to be free! Cdn concern with US$ exch (1)

Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347810)

Yeah but thats no reason to be depressed about it. In fact in many ways its a good thing, and helps your exports to undercut US native industries, for a net economic gain. Calling it "lame" and so on is a bit silly.

Re:Maps want to be free! Cdn concern with US$ exch (2, Interesting)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347987)

ok... well two years ago, it was worth 66 cents,
now we are at around 75 US cents. so it has gone up about 18%. thirty years ago, as any beer drinking Canadian (closest analogy to "red-blooded American" I could think of :-) will tell you, the Canadian dollar was as high as $1.10 US. so the national lament goes... personally, it's a load of bull.


as for making goods cheaper... hmm... if they are natural resources, those are all costed in US$ anyways, makes no difference. if it manufactured goods, then most foreign components are going to be purchased in US$. so won't make much difference
either.


xchange rates are just trade friction. when rates change, prices slowly adjust to reflect the new cost structure. There is not really a long term benefit. the argument would make sense if high value items were manufactured directly from Canadian natural resources. I don't think that is too common a case.


my guess is that costs in Canada are lower because
there is a public health care system, which controls costs better than the american system, and many other sorts of organizations, like workman's compensation which reduce liabilities, so that insurance costs are lower across the board. The un-employment insurance programs reduce social diparity and unrest, and make the country cheaper to police, again reducing costs. That corporations use the same programs to smooth over low-demand periods by having workers on those programs then, and available when demand picks up.
So they don't have to spend as much on hiring, since the skilled people remain in the industry through the dips. Again, this reduces costs for industry.

Re:Maps want to be free! (2, Informative)

rediguana (104664) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347681)

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 provider.

Re:Maps want to be free! (4, Informative)

Jim_Maryland (718224) | more than 10 years ago | (#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....

Re:Maps want to be free! (3, Insightful)

Caius_Julius (814777) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347845)

"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" are disingenuous.

Re:Maps want to be free! (2, Interesting)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348094)

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 to lease from) gets used without purchase, then its unclear if the citizens derive any "ownership" of this data (especially if the contract says no, though it could become a question of whether the government could legally enter into a contract that deprives the citizenship the benefits of their tax dollars)

Re:Maps want to be free! (5, Interesting)

NatHoward (109146) | more than 10 years ago | (#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....

Re:Maps want to be free! (2, Insightful)

shalla (642644) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348237)

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 request. Unless the information meets one of the exceptions listed in the Freedom of Information Act, it simply shouldn't be restricted. That's why we have the darn exceptions in the first place. "I don't think most people will use it" is not an acceptable reason to block access to information obtained with public funds.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that the government fund Internet access to such records for the general public, but the records should be available on request.

If you are concerned about people making commercial use of such aerial photography, I would think such photography would still be under copyright and thus could not be used in such a manner.

Re:Maps want to be free! (2, Insightful)

chiph (523845) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348240)

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.

Re:Maps want to be free! (3, Interesting)

mrgriscom (721144) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348278)

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 forced to forage for scraps of incomplete or old data, or fight endlessly with paranoid towns like Greenwich. A centralized state-wide program for the acquisition and distribution of high-quality, current aerial imagery would not only be beneficial (and greatly appreciated), but as demonstrated by our neighbors, very feasible too.

Re:Maps want to be free! (2, Informative)

thogard (43403) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347729)

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.

It should be available (4, Insightful)

reboot246 (623534) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347595)

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.

Re:It should be available - no general answer. (4, Interesting)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347864)

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...)

Re:It should be available - no general answer. (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348148)

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 reporting is needed because by the time the press conference comes around, the spill has been spun so fast by everyone involved (especially the spiller) that it will have separated itself from the water in its own centrifuge. That benzene spill will become a "serious, but contained incident which will not cause noticable impact to the environment (nobody will notice the tumors on the fish)."

Terra Server (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#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]

Re:Terra Server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347625)

Ha ha, that just links to some Microsoft site.

Well, in Australia... (2, Interesting)

ivi (126837) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Re:Well, in Australia... (1)

ivi (126837) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347605)


Sorry, I meant: We have to pay to GET access
to the data, if WE want to USE it... (also).

Re:Well, in Australia... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347651)

Yeah, got that. But what you don't say is if it's a realistic cost.

It costs money to create, maintain, and distribute data. Are they charging an extra amount that's just going into general gov revenue or something?

Stop with the acronyms! (3, Insightful)

Quobobo (709437) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Re:Stop with the acronyms! (0)

droleary (47999) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347751)

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.

Submission? It's explained on the top of every page! What part of "News for Nerds" don't you understand? If every common geeky TLA leaves you DaC, you can KMA and go sit -/.

Re:Stop with the acronyms! (4, Funny)

Quobobo (709437) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347767)

Today FOI and GIS, tomorrow OMG ASL PLZ!11! ROFL

Think about it, man. Do you really want that on your conscience?

Re:Stop with the acronyms! (0, Offtopic)

Gerad (86818) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347955)

If you had bothered to even read the article summary, you probably could have figured out the acronyms by putting in a tiny bit of effort. But no, it's easier to bitch here and get others to do your work for you.

pathetic.

Re:Stop with the acronyms! (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347999)

"but not many people are going to understand FOI or GIS."

I know what they are! They're spells from Phantasy Star... aren't they?

Re:Stop with the acronyms! (2, Informative)

dema (103780) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348018)

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.

I dunno about you, but I had no idea what those meant either.....until I read the submission.

hmm... architectural plans, Oklahoma city,... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347624)

I dunno, are architectural plans publically available? hmm... Would it have helped Mr. McVey (sp?) to have consulted with an engineer to find the optimal place to park? If there is a chemical or nuclear plant in the area of concern, those pesky terrorists might find it useful to be able to pick the best part to aim at... free aerial recon... OTOH,

I really do want to know whose grass is greener.

It would be really useful if there were appropriate markup in disagreements about who that tree that fell on Jones' Mercedes belongs to. Without having to call in a surveyor.

Pizza Hut could find their locations easier with a free as in beer navigation aids.

if the photos are frequent enough, say someone puts up surveillance information for a city, I'd like to keep tags on that ex-wife I beat up and went to prison for...

order something from a web site, the web site looks up the address, hmm... ratty part of town, small sq. footage area, looks risky. Reject the order. on the other hand UPS could probably easily already provide that service to a shipper. It's would be a an adjustment to their charge calculator to add some sort of "non-payment risk metric", coupled with the credit rating...

information wants to be free. That isn't a battlecry but it is an observation. It cuts both ways. Folks don't want the government and corporations to hide anything. Well, if they cannot hide anything, chances are that individuals will have a mighty tough time as well. Information is already cheap enough that it is available to any large organisation that has sufficient reason to obtain it, having it not free just removes it from access to the public at large, and fringe/criminal groups who aren't sufficiently organized. hmm... tough call...

What does he want to do with this data? (4, Insightful)

arb (452787) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347635)

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.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347674)

free information paid for by the city?

You act like the city magically produces money everytime it farts. You are aware that this mans and many others tax dollars went to PAY for these maps & pictures?? He is well within his rights to use public domain information to start a business.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347677)

That's irrelevant. The point is that its information that should be available to the publc, be they private sector or civilian.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (3, Insightful)

samael (12612) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347687)

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.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (2, Insightful)

AstroDrabb (534369) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347954)

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 is an end user just like anyone else. I can take a GPLed app like GAIM and change it and never release those changes as long as I keep it internally and not try to distribute a binary.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (5, Informative)

GPSguy (62002) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347762)

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.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (3, Insightful)

base3 (539820) | more than 10 years ago | (#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."

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (3, Insightful)

budgenator (254554) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348201)

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.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (0, Redundant)

Caius_Julius (814777) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347857)

"Has he offered to purchase the information, or is he expecting to kick start his business with free information paid for by the city?"

He sounds like a scammer that has decided a court case to force the info out of the town is cheaper than paying for it tile by tile. If the town has refused to sell him the data at the price the do to everyone else then they are way out of line.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (2, Interesting)

max born (739948) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347869)

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.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (1)

arb (452787) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347889)

True, to a point. Has he offered to pay a fair price for the data? My guess is no, and the town is using whatever justification it can to deny the request.

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (3, Interesting)

diaz (816483) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347902)

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 cost savings to the commercial outfit that would normally have to pay to have a flight done.

Wouldn't you want your local unit of government to help keep taxes down by raising additional revenues by selling this data?

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (1)

arb (452787) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347942)

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, but the commercial operators were just trying to save a butt-load of money.

The town/county/state is not the only source of this information - if you really want to get hold of GIS data and imagery, you can quite easily locate providers of this information.

There was a big push several years ago to move to "user pays" systems around here - in this case I would definitely agree with such an initiative. Why shouldn't a person hoping to profit from this data pay the relevant costs associated with the collection and maintenance? Why should my tax dollars prop up someone else's business?

GIS companies also get their data from government (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347982)

And most likely the 'GIS' companies got all of their data from the government in the first place.

What business is it of yours what he wants to do?
He probably has a patented business model and will sue the pants off of anyone who discusses it on-line.
Unless you live in a nudest colony then don't ask this question!

Re:GIS companies also get their data from governme (1)

arb (452787) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348034)

The "GIS" companies who you presume "got all of their data from the government in the first place" would have paid a considerable sum for the use of that data and the rights to on-sell the data. Chances are though, the government purchased their original GIS data from a third party source. Not many local governments have the resources to create their GIS dataset from scratch...

What business is it of yours what he wants to do?

Well Mr Troll, if my tax dollars have been spent maintaining this data, I do not want some cheap-assed wannabe businessman ripping me off by getting free access to this data just so he can charge me for whatever "patented business model" he has in mind.

Unless you live in a nudest colony then don't ask this question!

Oh Mr Troll, what a funny man you are! ;-)

Re:GIS companies also get their data from governme (1)

jumpingfred (244629) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348117)

You would still have free access to the government data no matter what pattened buisness modle this guy has so what is the problem?

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (1)

cavac (640390) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348106)

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?

Re:What does he want to do with this data? (2, Interesting)

base3 (539820) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348159)

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."

No... Think About the Celebs... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347755)

Key quote:

argued that the unfettered release of detailed information ... and celebrities' homes in electronic form could lead to breaches in security and privacy.

Yep. Wonder who might be behind this. It was done with public funds and it should be public. Are we going to stand up to terrorism or are we going to hide away an hope the big bad osma won't try to hurt us again. Everytime we cave on something like this, it is a victory for terrorism (and the celebs that are using it to their advantage).

Beware of the Leopard (0, Troll)

hendrix69 (683997) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347817)

"But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine month."

"Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything."

"But the plans were on display ..."

"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

"That's the display department."

"With a flashlight."

"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs."

"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."

All the richies probably scared... (1)

FatSean (18753) | more than 10 years ago | (#10347924)

..those would likely be some killer treasure maps for theives with the means...

Re:All the richies probably scared... (1)

base3 (539820) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348155)

Their real-estate records already provide whose living where. Someone just has to know they can go to the country seat/town hall/city hall and look at them. And they're already in databases like Lexis/Nexis--so currently, would-be database-driven thieves have to make an investment in either time or money.

Rich people aren't entitled to any more privacy regarding real estate and tax records than the rest of us. They already use tricks like buying through shell companies or nominees to keep their names out of the public record. Those tricks aren't available to those of us whose banks don't need our business badly enough to concede to allow them on the contracts.

there have to be limits on release of data (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10347968)

Launch codes for missles are also 'public records'.
Will a judge now release this information as well as all the manuals on building and luanching ICBM's?

Clearly not.

Or maybe not so clearly not.

Now we see why it is important to limit the amount of data that can be kept on us. Now we see why data that the 'government' collects on us should be owned by us. Obviously not all of the data.

Re:there have to be limits on release of data (2, Informative)

base3 (539820) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348138)

Classified information, while not only not "public record," as the term is commonly used, is specifically exempted from the Freedom of Information Act and state sunshine laws.

crap (1)

celeritas_2 (750289) | more than 10 years ago | (#10348270)

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

GIS request (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10348284)

I work for the IT department in one of the larger counties in Florida. A division of our department maintains the backend and file storage/access to the GIS mosaic aerials and street/address database (im talking terrabytes of info on a dedicated SAN). The actual street/address database is UPDATED by a different department, the real estate dept. That is neither here nor there. At any rate, the real estate department SELLS this info to the public at various sites, and even on the internet. In Florida we have what is called the sunshine law which basically makes ALL data, correspondances, etc. of county (city, county and state) agencies public record. Even email, memo's and all network data (except HIPAA-related, criminal/police/sherrif/childrens svc/fire info) public record. I could theoretically see a private citizen requesting copies of these aerials and other GIS data, and then selling them at his business or through some other private means, and making a profit at the expense of the county (or whatever agency). This is CLEARLY not the intent of the law. I do not have any problems with FOI act or the sunshine law, but people using this info to PROFIT should not be allowed. I also think citing security / terrorist concerns is just a weak excuse and complete BS. But clearly (and I think this is the issue) this guy is trying to make a quick buck off of his county's GIS department, and that is nonsense...
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