TWO VIEWS ON PUBLIC ACCESS TO GEOSPATIAL INFORMATION
Are remote sensing data that are collected by the government through
satellite and aerial reconnaissance a public resource that should be
more fully and openly exploited in the public interest? Or should
public access to such information, already limited, be further
curtailed in the name of combating terrorism?
Each of these conflicting views informs policy proposals that are now
pending in Congress and the executive branch.
Geospatial data that are acquired for scientific and national security
purposes "also can have important applications to help meet societal
goals," according to a bill introduced in the House of Representatives
last month by Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO).
"The full range of applications of remote sensing and other forms of
geospatial information to meeting public sector requirements has not
been adequately explored or exploited."
Rep. Udall's bill is intended "to encourage the development and
integrated use by the public and private sectors of remote sensing and
other geospatial information."
See H.R. 426, The Remote Sensing Applications Act of 2005, introduced
January 26 and referred to the House Science Committee, here:
In contrast to Rep. Udall, who seeks expanded access to and use of
geospatial information, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency
(NGA) is considering a proposal to withdraw various categories of
aeronautical information from the public domain (Secrecy News,
Where Rep. Udall sees the public as a potential "customer" that is fully
capable of making productive use of government data, the NGA seems to view
public disclosure of such unclassified data first and foremost as a
potential threat. It is a fundamental difference in orientation.
NGA was recently asked to reconsider its attitude towards public access
in an open letter from Kansas University map librarian Scott R.
"I encourage you to think more broadly in your assessment of 'the
threat,' and the collaboration that will be necessary to prevail in
this 'war on terror'," he wrote to NGA Director Gen. James R. Clapper.
"I urge you to recognize and exploit the informal collaboration that is
already happening between government, industry and higher education in
the production, analysis and distribution of geospatial intelligence.
Withdrawal of information and data products from the public will only
serve to cripple these collaborative efforts," Mr. McEathron wrote.
A copy of his January 28 letter to Gen. Clapper, reposted with
permission, is here:
The public comment period on the NGA proposal extends through June 30,
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 15
February 9, 2005
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) yesterday introduced three bills that would
amend the USA Patriot Act. The proposals would limit so-called "sneak
and peek" searches (S.316); restrict government access to library,
bookseller and other records (S. 317); and modify the authority to
intercept computer communications (S. 318). See:
A bill to require public disclosure of U.S. firms such as Halliburton
that indirectly conduct business with Iran was introduced in the Senate
by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). "The bill would require the Treasury
Secretary to publish a list of the United States companies whose
subsidiaries continue to do energy deals with Iran.... My view is that
an informed American public is best equipped to hold these companies
The rules of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence were
published in the Congressional Record February 8 and are available
NEW FROM CRS
In accordance with congressional direction, the Congressional Research
Service does not permit direct public access to CRS publications. But
the following new and updated reports were obtained by Secrecy News.
"U.S. Military Operations in the Global War on Terrorism: Afghanistan,
Africa, the Philippines, and Colombia," February 4, 2005:
"Protection of Classified Information by Congress: Practices and
Proposals," updated January 5, 2005:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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