GIS workshop tackles data privacy

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

privacy policies.

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.


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