Wisconsin Geospatial News

California public records case raises new questions about geosptial data

The California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) recently announced closure of a three year legal battle with Santa Clara County over access to geospatial data. Prior to the lawsuit, which was filed in October of 2006, Santa Clara County had been selling its basemap geospatial data for $158,000. CFAC cited the California Public Record Act (PRA) throughout the case, and eventually convinced both the California Superior Court and the California Court of Appeal that geospatial data are subject to the PRA. According an announcement published by the Open Data Consortium, in the end CFAC paid $3.10 per each disc for the data, plus shipping.

What does this mean for Wisconsin geospatial producers? Hard to say. In our state, GIS and mapping professionals have debated the relevance of the public records law for many years, with opinions often becoming polarized very quickly. The balance between funding ongoing programs, what constitutes a “record”, and what satisfies the public’s right to information is not as black and white as it may seem on the surface. While the California case does raise many questions for Wisconsin (yet again), it likely will not end the debate. It does, however, create another point of information to discuss as state and local data sharing policies are developed in the future.