Are Municipal GIS Data Subject to Open Records Law? Greenwich Take 2


Greenwich v. FOI Commission, the court battle in Greenwich,  CT that sparked debate across the country regarding the sale of public data, and the balance between security and privacy, continues. On May 15, 2008, Erin Lynch of the Fairfield County Weekly reported that the Town of Greenwich, Connecticut, is appealing a 2006 decision by the Freedom of Information Commission requiring the release of aerial imagery maintained in its municipal GIS database:

In an effort to overturn a state Freedom of Information Commission ruling, Greenwich is appealing a 2006 decision that not only found the town was in violation of the law, but could save a former First Selectman from paying a $100 fine. Question: at what cost to taxpayers?

The FOI Commission slapped the former selectman, Jim Lash, with the fine in 2006 after it ruled that he withheld public documents from Greenwich resident Stephen Whitaker. The town is appealing the decision in New Britain Superior Court, and oral arguments for the case are expected to begin next month.

The ruling stems from a 2001 incident in which Whitaker requested access to Greenwich‘s Geographic Information System (GIS), a municipal database with property information and aerial photos. In 2002, the commission ruled in Whitaker’s favor, but the decision was appealed by the town. Whitaker ultimately won access to the documents in 2005, but the town is still battling over whether he is allowed access to updates to the GIS system—something the tonier-than-thou town says could be a security risk. …

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Source: Fairfield County Weekly



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3 responses to “Are Municipal GIS Data Subject to Open Records Law? Greenwich Take 2”

  1. Justin Bronn says :

    Thanks for sharing, I had no idea the local government was still trying to fight this. The 2005 opinion is pretty clear when the Connecticut Supreme Court held that “generalized claims of a possible safety risk do not satisfy the plaintiff’s burden of proving the applicability of an exemption from disclosure under [Connecticut’s Freeodom of Information Act].” The only thing that may have changed since then is Connecticut’s FOIA law — which could have been amended to prevent disclosure of such data.

    In my research on the topic I’ve found that courts will deny FOIA requests if the statue doesn’t permit disclosure. You should check out the following cases from Florida on the subject:

    Metropolitan Dade County v. Florida Power & Light Co., 45 U.S.P.Q. 2d 1667 (Fl. Cir. Ct. 1998) (request denied because county licensed its own geospatial data from private power company and thus did not possess the rights to disclose it to others).

    Microdecisions, Inc. v. Skinner, 889 So.2d 871 (Fla. App. 2004) (request granted because Florida law did not allow county government to hold copyright in its tax maps).

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