The Minneapolis St Paul regional GIS council (MetroGIS) conducted research that was in part based on a policy call to individual counties in their metropolitan area for free and open data. The results, reported here, along with related links and publications, provide excellent information about the current state of free and open data in the GIS council’s region. More importantly, beyond this particular metropolitan area, the documents include succinct and compelling arguments for the benefits to any local government in making its data open and freely available. These include transparency of operations, improved public service, ease of data access, savings in terms of staff time, meeting public demand, improved inter-agency work relationships, and faster decision making. It fits into the notion of data as an important component of public infrastructure, created to serve the public good, and fundamental to wise decision making.
This MetroGIS site is also of value because it provides a resolution for support for free and open public geospatial data, a sample letter of support, and links to related articles and publications. In short, the MetroGIS staff provides insight to the decisions that have brought their organization to this point. The results of their research is of great assistance to those grappling with whether and how to serve their own spatial data.
In the related resources provided, that may be of particular interest to the readers of the Spatial Reserves blog, includes NSGIC President Ivan Weichert’s essay This Isn’t Private Information, on locational privacy, arguing that if some privacy issues are enacted, it would destroy the government’s ability to conduct its business, and negatively affect government and commercial services that citizens expect and demand. Another item of interest is Brian Timoney’s The Flawed Economics of Closed Government Data, where, in his usual straightforward style, he argues against the “cost recovery” model for government agency provision of data.
A central theme in the GIS Guide to Public Domain Data is data licensing; the emergence of licensing frameworks for spatial data, the types of licenses that are available for data producers and users, and what is means to place data in the public domain. Despite much attention there is as yet no universally accepted definition of the term ‘public domain’. A number of organisations have posted their own interpretations, including:
US Copyright Office: The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the ‘public domain’ if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.
UK’s Intellectual Property Office: The body of works not or no longer protected by Intellectual Property rights which are available for the public to use without seeking permission or paying royalties.
Creative Commons: When a work is in the public domain, it is free for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction under copyright law. Public domain is the purest form of open/free, since no one owns or controls the material in any way.
Common to all these definitions are the freedom from royalty payments and the absence of intellectual property rights and copyright restrictions on the use and reuse of the data. During the recent State of the Map US conference in Washington DC, some of the lingering issues regarding data licensing for spatial data were raised again. In his presentation on OpenStreetMap (OSM) Alex Barth of Mapbox discussed some of the current licensing challenges facing the current and future use of OSM data.
OSM data is open data licensed under the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL), and the cartography in the map tiles and the documentation are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license (CC BY-SA). Common to both licensing frameworks is the share-alike clause that means any OSM data that is updated and improved, or third party data remixed with OSM data, must be shared under the same licensing terms.
For some organisations integrating OSM data with their own private data, or organisations who are mandated to make their data available in the public domain (for example the US Geological Survey), wider use of this data resource is not an option and the benefits of crowd-sourced, free and open datasets like OSM will never be fully realised. For many observers, the only sensible long-term option is dropping the share-alike clause from the OSM licensing arrangements. For others, designation as a public domain data set is the solution. It remains to be seen which licensing path the OpenStreetMap community will choose.
We created 10 exercises that help data users build skills with making decisions with public domain data. I assigned several of those hands-on exercises recently to university students in a GIS course on public domain data, and I was amazed at the high quality of their analysis and of the cartography on their final maps. A selection of these maps, involving the creation of a database and map for an ecotourism company in New Zealand, are shown below. This is Exercise 7 in our set.
Particularly impressive about the results from this assignment is that this activity is open ended. In previous exercises, analysts are directed to specific websites to obtain data, but by this exercise, they are ready to tackle a problem without much guidance. Here, they determine the type of ecotourism they will focus on, the data they will need, the organizations from which they will obtain the data, how they will format, project, and analyze the data, the scale, cartography, and types of maps they will make, and the methods they will use to communicate their results. Try one of these exercises today and share your results!
Last week the European Union (EU) announced the launch of the Sentinel-1A satellite, as part of the first of six missions that will provide the framework for the Copernicus Earth Observation project. Copernicus, formerly known as GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), aims to collect data from a variety of sources, including satellite, airborne sensors and ground stations, to support a range of applications including:
Monitoring sea ice zones and the Arctic environment
Assimilation of sea ice observations in the forecasting systems
Surveillance of marine environment, including oil-spill monitoring and ship detection for maritime security
Monitoring land surface motion risks
Mapping of land surfaces: forest, water and soil, sustainable agriculture
Mapping in support of humanitarian aid in crisis situations
A second satellite, Sentinel-1B, will be launched next year. Once the system is fully operational, the aim is to provide almost daily coverage for high priority areas like Europe, Canada and some shipping routes. The radar capabilities on-board the satellite mean that data can be collected independent of weather conditions, day or night.
Image source: http://bit.ly/1el9g6M
All of the data products collected by the Sentinel satellites are to be made publicly available as open data, free of charge, to all data users. This also includes the use of the data for commercial purposes. The Sentinel-1A satellite is expected to be operational within three months.