When Congress failed to pursue several pieces of privacy legislation proposed or introduced in 2010, many in the surveying and mapping profession breathed a sigh of relief. A proposed draft of legislation introduced in May by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), which was intended to protect personal privacy, would have unintentionally limited the data that could be collected for a broad range of geospatial applications. The language in the bill was far too vague. A similar bill with equally ambiguous language -- HR 5777, the Best Practices Act -- was introduced in July by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), but it, too, stalled out. It appeared that all the concern about these proposals had merely been false alarms.
However, new threats loom on the horizon, this time from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Commerce Department. In an FTC staff report issued on Dec. 1, 2010, titled “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change,” the FTC proposes regulations and policies that could, in essence, shut down the geospatial community.
“There are two major problems with this proposal,” said John Palatiello, executive director of MAPPS. “This proposal (like legislation that was introduced but not acted upon by Congress) uses the very broad term ‘precise geolocation data’ but does not define the term. This is very dangerous. Also, to require that any geospatial firm get ‘affirmative express consent’ from every citizen about whom precise geolocation data is to be collected is impractical to the point of being impossible. This is not just data about an individual but any ‘precise geolocation data.’ This would require every citizen to be contacted and approval obtained before parcel data is collected, or imagery, or elevation data or any other geolocation data.”
MAPPS, an association of photogrammetry, mapping and geospatial firms that has a strong record of advocacy, submitted a detailed letter
on Jan. 4 to the chairman of the FTC, outlining the areas of concern and urging the FTC to remove any reference to “precise geolocation data,” more-specifically and exactly define the term, and/or include an exemption that would prevent the regulations from harming geospatial businesses.
Palatiello is also encouraging everyone involved in surveying and mapping to review the details
of the proposal and submit comments to the FTC
prior to the Jan. 31, 2011, deadline.
A report from the U.S. Commerce Department issued on Dec. 16 is raising similar red flags, and Palatiello expects additional legislation to be introduced in 2011 as personal privacy in an era of increased information sharing remains a concern.
“These proposals are poorly written, do not define precise geolocation data, and have serious unintended consequences for industries and professions beyond those these Federal authorities are attempting to regulate,” Palatiello said. “This is a significant issue and one that we need to address with a unified voice.”
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