Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences University of Greenw ich, Medway Campus Pembroke, Chatham Maritime Chatham, Kent ME4 4TB UNITED KINGDOM

University of Greenwich

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How the use of GIS can be significantl y i nfluenced by the legal issues of pri vac y and public access to data

HOW THE LEGAL ISSUES OF PRIVACY AND PUBLIC ACCESS TO DATA CAN SIGNIFICANTLY INFLUENCE THE USE OF GIS. ..............................I TABLE OF CONTENT...................................................................................................II 1 2 2.1 2.2 3 INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................1 LEGAL ISSUES ..................................................................................................2 PUBLIC ACCESS ...............................................................................................2 PRIVACY..............................................................................................................4 REFERENCES ....................................................................................................8




In her elaborative presentation, Clare (2004) stated that Increased computer literacy in work place and realisation of importance of location and spatial information has make the growth of GIS so great in its application to solving GIS related problem. However, legal issues of privacy, public access to data, copyrights and the value of public Information have limits GIS commercial development and potential, this is in contrast to and despite greater public awareness of GIS. Serious legal considerations and application procedures must now be kept in mind during the creation, proposal, design and implementation of large public and private GIS projects. Continuous debate both in the past and now have been focusing on a number of key issues and questions as regard significant influence by the legal issues of privacy and public access to data in promoting the development of GIS technology. (Margaret L, et al 2000) In his paper review Radoš (2002) claims that, the main legal issues regarding how privacy and public access to data can significantly influence the use of GIS are related to confidentiality protection in GIS databases versus enabling public access to spatial data. Moreover, personal data integrity of government policies for restrictive disposal and limited access to spatial data influence GIS development and its usage. (Radoš Š, 2002)

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How use of GIS c an be si gnificantly influenced by the legal issues of privacy and public acc ess to data



Legal issues will either promote or limit the development of GIS technology and its applications to the industry. GIS is all about data, as data encompass 75% of all GIS projects. Unquestionably many legal considerations must now be kept in mind during the development of GIS projects. (Margaret L et al, 2000) Higher satellite spatial resolution images will increase GIS productivity, are the best products spatial resolution images accessible? Is United Kingdom and America’s intelligence in possessing of higher satellite imagery resolution like 0.05 metre resolution imagery? Will public access to this data be made possible? What security implications are under covered? Will its eventual commercialisation invade people’s privacy? What of a secret GPS bug implanted without a court order by the police on a suspect? Will spatial analysis and GIS generated data be accepted as court evidence? Can the government set limits on encryption? Is there a right to access personal information held in GIS databases and query it? These are some of legal issues that need extensive elaboration as relates to GIS in the present and in the future.



The government, educational institutions, individuals and the private sector need to communicate and develop better services using the power that lies within the GIS “magic” and technology. The reliance on information and data analysis capability of GIS are immeasurable and beneficial in term of its spatial and modelling contents. Contrary to this, many government laws still govern access to records, data and information worldwide and this have positively or negatively influence the use of GIS depending on the situation. In Nigeria, while GIS is accepted as a new technological innovation and advancement, duplication of effort in data capture is common at all level, which has called for practitioners of GIS to realise that laws and policy coordination of effort is necessary. Due to lack of a framework, public access to data is still a mirage and akin to a “camel passing through a need”. The lack of these institutional spatial data policies has driven many organisations into creating their own

datasets. Certainly, public access to this datasets will be limited, because it is produced at individual’s expense. If one needs similar data, you just have to create a new dataset. It is my opinion that the way forward for many African countries is to resolve all negative and positive legal issues as relates to this emerging technology of GIS in Africa. How much public information do private citizens have the right to demand, and can government agencies recover costs by selling public data created at their own expense? These are few questions in my opinion that will have to be addressed.

However, in South Africa (Fiona F, 1999), limited law exists to control free public access to data to control GIS activities, which may have a potentially negative impact on the environment. This assessment of the environment using GIS have been delegated to GIS consultant to produce and identify areas of environmental sensitivity and to provide environmental management parameters for these areas for any proposed development by individuals. The legislation also mandate GIS consultants to develop simple GIS viewer to enable non-GIS specialists to access any information and without any extensive training and to view the original datasets without having to purchase additional software and programs. All these are free, and at no cost. A parameter report can also be generated for selected areas, printed or saved for use in other application of interest to the user. Such free and easy public access to data will definitely affect the growth of GIS and increase public awareness of GIS positively. This will move the country further into research and development, this free access to data will become a powerful tool in sustainable use and management of environmental resources. The above South African example is similar to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Records Act of the US, but only that GIS consultant in South Africa’s case are mandated to produce, manipulate, and distribute these data at their own expenses. What are the legal mechanisms in place to keep a terrorist group from either obtaining public data or purchasing imagery data for destructive ends? The command link from satellites to the ground station are always encrypted and authenticated. Encryption (Clare P, 2004), is when remote sensed satellite

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How use of GIS c an be si gnificantly influenced by the legal issues of privacy and public acc ess to data

imagery data are encoded so that only receiving stations with decryption keys can access and decode the data. Users who did not contribute to provision costs reasoned this to decreased commercial exploitation of the free the data. This further explains why most satellite imagery companies won' sell data to t defined terrorist nations or violate UN or bilateral trade restrictions. (Clare P, 2004) In September 27,2003 Nigeria launched her first ever satellite-the Nigeriasat-1. The signal of Nigeriasat-1 are encrypted and the code known to selected few to avoid the public access to the down-linked signals before the final images are rolled out. This allows each DMC (Disaster Monitoring Constellation) countries to also maintain its dependence. Despite Nigeria’s need for rapid development in GIS related technology, the Federal Government has entered into agreement with DMC and Reuters-Alertnet to provide free images in UN declared emergency situations. It was also agreed that five percent of all images can be given out free of charge on humanitarian ground. (Obiechina O, 2003). Meanwhile, public accesses to this image are not free to Nigeria GIS communities. In January 2004, Zephyrgold International Ltd. challenge the Federal Government’s decision and its agreement with the DMC and wants free public access to all image data generated from NigeriaSat-1. Zephyrgold claims that the satellite was built at the expense of the taxpayer’s money and due to the fact that it will also rapidly boost research in GIS, hence it should be free. The government on the other hand, claims the necessity of recouping some of the expanded money on the project might not make it free to the public.



In his presentation, Beth (1997) reviewed that different Information and spatial technologies are developing and advancing at such a “rocket-pace” that laws are not keeping up with this growth. Advanced technology using GIS has give rise to a double-edged sword scenario with advantages and disadvantages. The following statement was written by Beth (1997) in 1977, twenty eight years ago,

as part of the study to determine the effectiveness of the Privacy Act: “The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through the automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even b enevolent, and wholly justifiable."

With an experience of secret GPS bug implanted without a court order by the police, then one might be forced to believe that it is becoming obvious that GIS technology is negatively bringing about a decrease in personal privacy. Contrary to this opinion, many school of thought (Onsrud, H et al, 1994; Obiechina O, 2003) still believe that geographic information has nothing to do with personal privacy but rather a factual information about land and resources telling us what, where, when and how this resources affect human lives. Nevertheless, because of GIS strong data integration and analysis capabilities and because most data are inherently local in nature, hence, the storage, display and analysis capabilities of GIS software make geographic information systems highly effective tools for analysing personal information. Hence, the interference of one’s personal privacy might be an added advantage to security and to enhance government and private sector in providing better services. Onsrud claimed that (Onsrud, H et al, 1994) GIS technology has the potential to be far more invasive of personal privacy than many other information technologies in the world. However, from another perspective, geographic information systems are proving to be powerful data integrating technologies. Examples from the marketing community has shown that the ability to integrate data by tying that data to its geographic location is one of the marketing industries most promising and powerful tools in compiling data from widely disparate sources on households and individuals. Secondly, another issue worth consideration of how use of GIS can be significantly influenced by the legal issues of privacy is how the world powers in satellite technology can decide to see on minute-to-minute basis who and who, what and what are in each individual countries with out recourse to any

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How use of GIS c an be si gnificantly influenced by the legal issues of privacy and public acc ess to data

government’s permission. Examples are use of GIS in monitoring potential terrorist movement, communication and e-commerce using GIS technology. In Africa (Nigeria), the State Security Service (SSS) are using GIS technology to monitor suspected potential terrorist (AIT, 2002), this is to convince the developed communities affected most by terrorists of Nigeria’s cooperation and support in combating terrorist. Some concerned group in Nigeria have risen against this practice and have gone to necessary court of appeal to stop any use of GIS technology in invading their privacy. This will definitely affect the use and impact of GIS in Nigeria as a developing nation. The television quoted the Nigerian law as contrary to this practice: Chapter IV, 37 of the 1999 Constitution declares that "the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.". Government security agencies are double standard and schizophrenic. They want strong cryptography-difficult codes to break- for their own military, GIS and diplomatic communications and weak cryptography to be used by adversaries, so that they can easily break these codes. They campaign for privacy of citi zens but at the same time they would also like to be able to monitor communications and movement of criminals. At the time of writing this essay, the UK government are proposing a legislation that would allow breaking into private communication of suspected terrorists.

Copyrights, liability and the value of public Information are also significant debate theme for further discussion on legal issues in GIS. It includes actions on GIS policy, and on related laws that may influence the development and use of GIS. In my opinion, developing countries support weaker laws and standards as a way to encourage their own GIS development, while developed countries prefers stricter standards and laws. The concept of a Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) and its potential realisation has captured the imagination and attention of politicians, administrators, academia, industry and professionals. The GSDI consists of the

broad policy, organisational, technical and financial arrangement necessary to support global access to GIS data. Many believe its central to the response to the challenge of global access to data, and thus improve general economic growth, social development and environmental management using GIS. (Fiona F, 1999)

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How use of GIS c an be si gnificantly influenced by the legal issues of privacy and public acc ess to data


1. African Independent News, 2002, “Combating and prevention of Terrorist related crime in Nigeria using Information Techniques”, Crime Fighters, a production by Nigerian Police Force-Publicity department. 2. Beth Givens, 1997. “Issues of Privacy and Access”, San Diego County Technology Summit”, Available from: (Last accessed 12 September 2005) 3. Clare Power, 2004, “Commercialisation of GIS and RS”: MSc Case Studies in GIS and Remote Sensing; Week 2 Lecture, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Greenwich University Medway Campus 4. Fiona F, 1999, “ The South African Approach to the use of GIS in Environmental Management”, EIS News, October 1999 Issue. 5. Margaret L, Kenneth E.F, 2OOO, “Legal Issues Relating to GIS”, Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin, 2000. Available from: (Last assessed, 22th August, 2005) 6. Onsrud, H.J., J. Johnson, and X. Lopez, 1994, “Protecting Personal Privacy in Using Geographic Information System”. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing Journal, 1994, LX (9), 1083-1095. 7. Obiechina O., November 2003, “NigeriaSat-1 : The full story”. Apco and Associate Ltd: ISBN 978-2368-79-3; page 15-16 8. Radoš Š, 2002, “Legal Issues Regarding Spatial Data”, University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Civil and Geodetic Engineering, Geodetic Department, FIG XXII International Congress Washington, D.C. USA, April 19-26 2002