For the CA Supreme Court ruling (PDF), visit: CA Supreme Court Decision July 8, 2013
To the extent that the term ―computer mapping system is ambiguous, the constitutional canon requires us to interpret it in a way that maximizes the public‘s access to information unless the Legislature has expressly provided to the contrary. (Officeof Inspector General v. Superior Court, supra, 189 Cal.App.4th at p.709.) As explained above, we find nothing in the text, statutory context, or legislative history of the term―computer mapping system‖ that allows us to say the Legislature clearly sought to exclude GIS formatted parcel data from the definition of a public record when it can be disclosed without any accompanying software.Applying the interpretive rule set forth in article I, section 3, subdivision (b)(2), we must conclude that section 6254.9(b)‘s exclusion of―computer mapping systems from the definition of a public record does not encompass a parcel database in a GIS file format. Contrary to what the County contends, this reading of the statute does not ―repeal or nullify‖ a ―statutory exception to the right of access to public records‖ in contravention of article I, section 3, subdivision (b)(5). Our holding simply construes the terms of section 6254.9 in light of the constitutional mandate that a statute ―shall be narrowly construed if it limits the right of access.(Cal. Const., art. I, §3, subd. (b)(2).)We note that this interpretation is consistent with a 2005 opinion letter issued by the Attorney General in response to a request by a member of the Assembly to determine whether ― parcel boundary map data maintained in an electronic format by a county assessor [is] subject to public inspection and copying under provisions of the California Public Records Act (88 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 153, 153 (2005).) The opinion letter explained that ―the term ̳computer mapping systems‘ in section 6254.9 does not refer to or include basic maps and boundary information per se (i.e., the basic data compiled, updated, and maintained by county assessors), but rather denotes unique computer programs to process such data using mapping functions original programs that have been designed and produced by a public agency.‖ (88 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. at p. 159.) Accordingly, the Attorney General concluded, ―parcel map data maintained in an electronic format by a county assessor does not qualify as a ̳computer mapping system‘under the exemption provisions of section 6254.9 (88 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. at p. 159) and must be provided upon request as a public record at a fee limited to the direct cost of producing the copy (id.at pp.163–164). As noted above, the record here indicates that 47 counties in California maintain GIS-formatted parcel base maps and provide access to those GIS-formatted databases as public records. (Ante, at p. 3.) Of those 47 counties, 19 changed their fee policies following the Attorney General‘s opinion letter, according to Sierra Club‘s expert.Because section 6254.9(b) does not exclude GIS-formatted databases like the OC Landbase from the definition of a public record, such databases are subject to disclosure unless otherwise exempt from the PRA. Unlike the records at issue in County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1301, the County here does not argue that the OC Landbase is subject to any other exemptions. The fact that the County offered to produce the information underlying the database in an alternative format suggests that no such exemption applies. Similarly, the County‘s general practice of producing the OC Landbase to the public, albeit pursuant to a licensing agreement, suggests that its contents do not implicate any of the confidentiality or other concerns underlying th e exemptions set forth in section 6254. Because the OC Landbase is not excluded from the definition of a public record under section 6254.9(b), and because the County does not argue that the database is otherwise exempt from disclosure, the County must produce the OC Landbase in response to Sierra Club‘s request―in any electronic format in which it holds the information‖ (§6253.9 (a)(1)) at a cost not to exceed the direct cost of duplication (§§ 6253.9 (a)(2),6253, subd. (b)).
By Katie Glueck, Politico, December 26, 2012
A suburban New York newspaper on Wednesday defended a decision to publish online maps that reveal names and addresses of people with gun licenses in several counties near New York City. … Over the weekend, the White Plains-based Journal News offered interactive maps of Westchester and Rockland counties which gave names and locations of people with pistol permits that the paper had obtained through the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The piece sparked uproar on the right and among some readers this week.
For full text of the article, please visit: New York newspaper defends identifying gun owners – Katie Glueck – POLITICO.com. Click here to see the interactive Map of the gun permits in Westchester county, NY.
- See also the Atlantic Op-ed “How Big Data Can Solve America’s Gun Problem” (Marc Parish, December 27, 2012).
- Newspaper to Identify Even More Gun Owners (fox8.com)
- Blogger Turns Tables on Newspaper that Published Map of Gun Owners (economicpolicyjournal.com)
- Newspaper’s Advertisers Face Huge Backlash Over Gun Map (huffingtonpost.com)
From the GSDI Legal-Econ Listserv:
Article: An Examination of Geospatial Data Availability and Data Accessibility by State
Documents to the People 39(1): 27-31?(Spring 2011)
This article focuses on a relationship between geospatial data availability and data accessibility, based on a hypothesis that state and local governments would contribute to the Geodata.gov clearinghouse (representing data availability) if states have open GIS record access laws. The analysis involved three steps: (1) collect data from Geodata.gov to measure geospatial data availability by state; (2) collect laws and opinions of attorneys general of all states to measure accessibility to geospatial data; and (3) correlate the data to test the hypothesis that state and local governments would contribute data to Geodata.gov clearinghouse if state laws encouraged open access to the GIS records. Result: “The results were not exactly what I was hoping to get. The hypothesis was rejected in all models but one.”
For full text of the article, click here.
- Former FGDC Executive Director on Mapping and the Spatial Data Infrastructure (geodatapolicy.wordpress.com)
Central Platte Natural Resources District (Appellant) v. United States Department of Agriculture; Farm Service Agency (Appellees) Central Platte Natural Resources District (Central Platte) sought disclosure of geospatial data from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Farm Service Agency (collectively the USDA) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq. The district court dismissed Central Platte’s APA claim on the ground that it already had an adequate remedy and granted summary judgment on its FOIA claim on the ground that the USDA was not required to disclose the requested geospatial data. … For the full Judicial View article, click here.
Text of the Court Opinion
For text of the court’s opinion, visit: United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, Case No. 10-3205. Thank you to the GSDI listserv for the heads up!
Prior Posts Tracking USDA Lawsuits on GIS data Access:
Supreme Court Upholds Resident’s Right to Navy Maps, Rules Against FOIA Exemption
by Adena Schutzberg, Directions Magazine, March 8, 2011
The Supreme Court rejected the government’s use of an exemption in the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to keep maps from the public. A Washington state resident wants Navy maps relating to its main West Coast ammunition dump. The individual will see those maps.
Background: Supreme Court hears arguments in Navy FOIA case
by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, December 1, 2010
… The case before the court, Milner v. Department of the Navy, concerned the Navy’s decision to withhold documents requested under the federal Freedom of Information Act regarding U.S. Navy maps depicting the placement of explosives at a Washington state naval munitions site. The Navy refused area resident Glen Scott Milner’s FOIA request for safety maps and data that show the placement and potential blast ranges of ammunition stored in Naval Magazine Indian Island, located near Port Hadlock, Wash. Milner was seeking information on the potential dangers to the nearby communities of the Navy’s munition storage practices. …
For full text of the article, visit here.
For links to the argument, opinion, merits briefs and amicus briefs, visit the Supreme Court of the United States Blog: http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/milner-v-department-of-the-navy/
- Bring the Freedom of Information Act into the digital (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Supreme Court Rules Against Broad Government Use Of FOIA Exemption To Withhold Documents (huffingtonpost.com)
- Supreme Court Sinks Navy’s Stonewalling (theartofaccess.com)
- Supreme Court Rules that Corporations DO NOT Have Exemption 7(C) FOIA Privacy Rights (nsarchive.wordpress.com)
- Document Friday: Cheat Sheet for Discretionary FOIA Releases (nsarchive.wordpress.com)
- High court rules vs. gov’t in open records case (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- It’s Sunshine Week, But Obama’s Transparency Record is Cloudy (wired.com)
- Sunshine Week: Do Open Government Laws Still Matter in the Era of WikiLeaks? (eff.org)