GIS workshop tackles data privacy
- By Greg Langlois
- May 25, 2001
A workshop this summer and fall will guide government geographic information
systems professionals on how to honor people's privacy while offering electronic
access to information.
GIS, spatial data and the Internet offer user-friendly access to government
data, such as information on household income, land ownership and crime
statistics. But in doing so, they have muddled previously clear-cut personal
The workshop, sponsored by the Urban Regional Information Systems Association
(URISA) and the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), will help GIS
professionals and others sort out the privacy concerns involved in their
"The workshop is intended to be of use for IT professionals in any setting
to think about how to protect personal privacy in the databases they build,"
said Kathy Covert, regional projects coordinator for FGDC.
Dharmesh Jain, GIS director for Coconino County, Ariz., and the workshop's
developer, said the daylong session will examine:
The privacy worries that have grown along with the development of GIS.
Laws that might address those worries.
Steps governments have already taken.
A checklist professionals can use to ensure that governments give spatial
data privacy more consideration.
Jain said GIS technology and the Internet make it easier for people to find
out sensitive information about other people. Sets of GIS data with demographic
information, for example, could link who lives in a particular house or
how much money they make. Prior to GIS and the Internet, finding such information
would take more effort, he said.
"The [privacy] issue became more obvious after we started using the Internet
to disseminate GIS data," Jain said. "Since then the issue has become more
Jain stressed that there are no uniform solutions to addressing privacy
concerns. Current public access laws probably will need to be altered, he
said, but individual communities will have to decide how that should be
done and what information should be considered too sensitive for public
The workshop, open to IT professionals from any level of government, is
being offered June 4 in Chicago, June 25 in Washington, D.C., and Oct. 21
at URISA's conference in Long Beach, Calif.