Tag Archive | Open Records

CA Supreme Court Issues Ruling on GIS Open Records Case

For the history of Sierra Club v. Orange County see GIS Cafe Blog (May 10, 2013): Sierra Club v. Orange County Has Its Day In Court

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)).
CONCLUSION
For the reasonsabove, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal andremand to that court with directions to remand to the superior court to issue a writ consistent with this opinion.

Ohio Court: Geodata Intertwined with Proprietary Software Falls Outside Open Records Law

Supreme Court Rules County Engineer’s Response Met Requirements of Public Records Act

by Dennis Whalen, CNO, March 7, 2013

The Supreme Court of Ohio today denied a writ of mandamus sought by Portsmouth real estate appraiser Robert Gambill to compel the production of certain public records by Scioto County Engineer Craig Opperman.In a 6-1 per curiam opinion, the court held that Opperman met the requirements of the Ohio Public Records Act by offering to provide Gambill with a copy of the county’s electronic database containing deed information and aerial photos of all property in the county if Gambill paid the estimated $2,000 cost of separating that data from proprietary mapmaking software protected by U.S. patent laws that is “inextricably intertwined” with the data on the engineer’s computer.

For full text of the article, visit Supreme Court Rules County Engineer’s Response Met Requirements of Public Records Act.

Related Articles:

See also High Court Rules in Favor of County (Portsmouth Daily Times), Ohio Court: Geodata Intertwined with Copyright-protected Software Falls Outside Open Records Law (Directions Magazine).

Similar Cases:

Sierra Club loses on appeal in case for access to Orange County database (Directions Magazine 2011)

The WireData Case and Implications for Geospatial Data (WI State Cartographer’s Office 2008)

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.

From Public Records to Open Government: Access to Massachusetts Municipal Geographic Data

by Robert Goodspeed, URISA Journal 2011, Volume 23, No 2

Abstract: Increasingly, citizens are demanding access to raw data from governments to hold public officials accountable, look up facts, conduct analysis, or create innovative applications and services. Cities and towns create data using geographic information systems such as layers describing parcels, zoning, and infrastructure that are useful for a wide range of purposes. Through a public records request to all 351 Massachusetts municipalities, this paper investigates whether these data are accessible to citizens in practice. Some response was received by 78.6 percent of the municipalities. Two municipalities refused access to all electronic records. Many others charged fees ranging up to $453 or placed legal restrictions on the data through licensing that could chill or prohibit creative reuses of the information through emerging technologies. Other practical barriers limited public access to data, such as limited resources, government officials’ limited technical knowledge, and outsourcing to private vendors. A followup survey among municipalities that did not respond to the request was conducted to determine if they had GIS systems or data policies, and this information was collected for 80.3 percent of the municipalities. Finally, the paper discusses the legal, policy, and technical steps that can be taken by governments to move from a “public records” to an “open government” paradigm for transparency of government data. The policy recommendations for municipalities include publishing GIS data for free online and with minimal legal restrictions.

For full text of the article, click here.

An Examination of Geospatial Data Availability and Data Accessibility by State

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.

OMB Prepares to Shutter Data.gov

By Gautham Nagesh, The Hill, March 31, 2011, 7:15 pm

OVERNIGHT TECH: THE LEDE: FedNewsRadio reports the Office of Management and Budget OMB is preparing to shut down several of the White House’s key transparency initiatives by May 31 if more funding is not approved. The House spending bill only included $2 million of the Obama administration’s requested $35 million for the e-Government fund. Without additional funds, Data.gov and PaymentAccuracy.gov could be the first to go …

… federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra announced the release of the software source code for the IT Dashboard and another federal spending accountability toolkit. Kundra said the reasons were twofold: to allow the public to submit its ideas and improvements and to facilitate other states and local governments adopting the technology for themselves. …

For full text of the article, visit Hillicon Valley – The Hill’s Hillicon Valley.

From Public Access to Open Government: Access to GIS Data

 

From Public Records to Open Government: Access to Massachusetts Municipal Geographic Data

Robert Goodspeed, PhD Student, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Submitted for publication to URISA Journal, January 2011

ABSTRACT

Increasingly citizens are demanding access of raw data from governments to look up facts, hold them accountable, conduct analysis, or create innovative applications and services. Cities and towns create information for geographic information systems such as parcels, zoning, and infrastructure that are useful for a wide range of purposes. Through a public records request to all 351 Massachusetts municipalities, this paper investigates whether this data is accessible to citizens in practice. In an apparent violation of the law, two municipalities refused access to electronic records. Many others charged fees ranging up to $453 or placed burdensome legal restrictions on the data that could chill or prohibit creative reuses of the data through emerging technologies. Other practical barriers, such as limited technical knowledge or resources and outsourcing to private vendors, restricted public access to data. Most troubling, 23.2% of municipalities did not respond with 29 days, nearly three times the legally mandated 10-day response time. Finally, the paper discusses legal, policy, and technical steps that can be taken by governments to move from a “public records” to an “open government” paradigm for transparency of government data. The policy recommendations for municipalities include publishing GIS data for free online, and with minimal legal restrictions.

For full text of the article, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, click here.

 

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