Up On the Soapbox

This one caught my eye when it came across Planet GS so I listened to the referenced piece.

Suffice it so say that I’ve been kind of close to this issue (more so in the past than I am now) and this kind of thing just really burns my arse.

I am less inclined to follow the line of logic that local officials are holding this data close as a means of accumulating power, although it certainly could lead to that. My experience is that most people are genuinely concerned about what they can do the keep their citizens safe while also providing good service.

Sean Gorman makes the dead-on point that geospatial data is proliferating rapidly and that it will overwhelm efforts to hold it back. It’s great that the town GIS staff doesn’t want to release manhole data but it’s really kind of moot when I can take a photo of them with my GPS-enabled phone.

The most salient point of the whole piece is made at the end when it is pointed out that there are no national guidelines in place governing the release of such information. Some areas make it available online. Others (like Greenwich, CT apparently) release nothing. This is exactly the kind of thing that DHS should be tackling but isn’t and hasn’t (and probably won’t). Apparently, six years isn’t enough.

As has been said about other issues, the people who want to do harm will find a way to get this information. Stances like that taken by Greenwich will only hamper law-abiding citizens with legitimate uses for the data. A structured process with appropriate checks in place will provide access to it in a way that minimizes (but never eliminates, because you can’t) risk.

Lacking any real guidance (and state, local and private infrastructure managers have been seeking guidance for years), the city of Greenwich can’t really be faulted. These are tough issues that don’t have easy solutions. Meanwhile, technology marches on. Maybe it’s time to get off the starting block.