The national association of private-sector geospatial firms has released a “Best Practices Guideline” for how member companies should handle geospatial data to protect individual citizen privacy. The MAPPS guideline was drafted by a task force led by new MAPPS President Susan Marlow, a GIS professional and principal with Stantec in Nashville, Tenn.

The guideline was developed in response to a March 2012 report of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change," in which “the Commission calls on individual companies, trade associations and self-regulatory bodies to adopt the principles contained in the final privacy framework.” The FTC sought to protect the privacy of individual citizens’ “sensitive” data, including addresses and other “precise geolocation data.” However, FTC did not define the term “precise geolocation data” and recommended that before any firm could collect, store or use such data, it would be required to “provide prominent disclosures and obtain affirmative express consent before using consumer data in a materially different manner than claimed when the data was collected ...”

The MAPPS guideline provides assistance to firms when determining when it should obtain individual consent for collection of geospatial data and when it is not needed to protect privacy. It was released at the association’s annual summer conference held last week in Sunriver, Ore. “Recent legislative and regulatory efforts to protect consumers and citizens in the name of privacy have cast a wide net, creating unintended consequences for mapping and geospatial firms,” said MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello.

“Geospatial data is derived from images and data collected from a variety of airborne and spaceborne platforms, as well as other mobile and terrestrial-based acquisition systems,” explained Palatiello. “This imagery and data is collected, utilized and applied in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) by companies operating within the safeguards, rights and framework established by the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States, and with government often the client. This document helps engage in lawful, ethical and professional practice that is respectful of individual citizens.”

The Management Association for Private Photogrammetic Surveyors based in Reston, Va. and formed in 1982, MAPPS is the only national association of firms in the surveying, spatial data and GIS fields. MAPPS member firms are engaged in surveying, photogrammetry, satellite and airborne remote sensing, aerial photography, hydrography, aerial and satellite image processing, GPS and GIS data collection, and conversion services. Associate members are engaged in the manufacturing and/or supplying of geospatial equipment, services, supplies, hardware or software to geospatial services firms, many of which are MAPPS member firms.