When you need access to existing data, you might expect to pay a fee. In some counties and municipalities, the fee is substantial, while in others the fee depends on whether the request is coming from a commercial or private entity.
In Florida, providing open access to public records, including data, is a stated duty of each agency. Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes mandates that “any records made or received by any public agency in the course of its official business are available for inspection, unless specifically exempted by the Florida Legislature.” But is free and open access to data a good idea? And if so, why doesn’t every state follow Florida’s example?
Participants in a panel discussion at the joint ACSM/GITA conference in Phoenix agreed that data should be more widely accessible. Panel moderator Robert F. Austin, GISP, City of Tampa, Fla., and president-elect of GITA, highlighted Florida’s stance and pointed out several other examples of open data policies, including Santa Clara County in California, which was recently forced to provide digital parcel basemaps at the cost of duplication instead of the previous $158,000 fee. The county now provides unrestricted access through an online Property Assessment Information System. The UK Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s national mapping agency, has also been charged with making data more easily accessible. The agency is achieving this goal in part through data.gov.uk, an open data portal.
The panelists-James Fee, The WeoGeo Blog; Robert Young, RPLS, Young & Associates; and Rudy Stricklan, RLS, AMEC Earth and Environmental-noted that these initiatives encourage innovative solutions that benefit the general public through improved safety, more cost-effective planning and even simple tools such as new smartphone apps. But how to achieve consistent, low-cost access to data on a national level remains a significant challenge. Initiatives such as The National Map and data.gov are a starting point. But how can these initiatives be driven to the state, county and city levels without compromising data quality or public security? Who should be responsible for updating these data resources, and who should pay for these efforts? How can the different data layers be combined effectively, and who will be charged with that task?
There are more questions than answers. Continued discussion will be key to resolving the data dilemma.
Editor’s note: Maryland was not mentioned by the panel, but the state has been a leader in data accessibility. For more information, visit www.marylandgis.net. Additional information on the Santa Clara County court decision can be found in Opinion: The Santa Clara Public Records Lawsuit Decision Is Good for Surveyors.
What do you think? Please share your comments below.