Does Government Geographic Data Belong to the People?

By Bruce Joffe, Cadalyst, February 8, 2012

After nearly three years of legal wrangling, the Sierra Club and Orange County are now facing off in the California Supreme Court. The issue that brought the two organizations into conflict is one of great importance to GIS professionals and non-users alike: public access to government databases. After the California First Amendment Coalition won a California Public Records Act (PRA) lawsuit against Santa Clara County, in April 2009, Sierra Club filed a similar suit against Orange County. Sierra Club needed Orange County’s parcel basemap in the GIS-compatible database format, but couldn’t afford to pay the price Orange County was charging — $475,000 — and didn’t believe that the County had the right to charge more than the cost of duplication, as prescribed under the PRA. Orange County defended its data sales policy with the so-called “software exemption” of the PRA, which states that government agencies do not have to provide software for the cost of duplication, as they do for the data that they use to make public decisions. … Sierra Club appealed the case, but the 4th District Court of Appeal affirmed the decision in support of Orange County. The County’s logic was that GIS includes software and data (citing ESRI’s definition of GIS as “a collection of software and data”), the County’s landbase is a GIS, GIS is a type of computer mapping system, and CMS is excluded by PRA section 6254.9; therefore, the County’s GIS landbase data is excluded….

Read more about this important debate. For the full text of the article, visit Does Government GIS Data Belong to the People? | Cadalyst.

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