Privacy! Managing GIS Data

Public Management, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Privacy! Managing GIS Data


Although Geographic Information System (GIS) technology has the potential to become the primary decision-making tool for local governments and essentially change the face of local government management, local officials must address the question of privacy.

During ICMA's July 2001 GIS Consortium meeting at the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) User Conference in San Diego, California, consortium members identified privacy protection as a key challenge to managing a GIS program. GIS is mapping software that allows users to see various layers of information overlaid on a map of a region. All the data collected by every level of government can be viewed and combined with other data, the summary of which, ultimately, can improve the level of service by a local government.

It is this cross matching of information from separate databases used to generate new information that has caused some concern. For example, an automobile insurance company could use GIS data to determine the location of dangerous intersections and raise insurance rates for those living near those intersections, Similarly, health insurance companies could cross-reference Superfund sites or other polluted properties with people's homes thereby charging more for insurance because of increased health risk. In fact, GIS data could conceivably be used for everything from mass marketing campaigns to burglary or even sexual harassment.

There are also concerns about data accuracy in a GIS system if that information is released to the public. Local governments have been held liable for errors or uncorrected mistakes in the information that is disseminated to the public.

Many argue that GIS data, collected with public funds, is public information and should be available to everyone. Federal, state, and local officials have spent the last few years trying to determine where this privacy line should be. In 1998, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), which was established by a Presidential Executive Order to coordinate data used with GIS, enacted a policy on personal information privacy in federal geospacial databases.

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Privacy! Managing GIS Data
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