widely used, important ethical, legal, and sociological issues are likely to arise. They include such things as the liability of data and software tool providers, intellectual property rights, and the rules that should govern information access and use—including privacy and confidentiality protection. Issues associated with the availability of government-collected geospatial information include constraints owing to national security concerns, policies that limit the release of data obtained for government use that could compete with data from commercial providers, and the cost of preparing data sets for public release. Moreover, access practices vary at the local, regional, national, and international levels of government. Whereas the federal government’s general policy is to make data available free of charge or at the actual cost of distribution, many state and local government organizations seek partial or full cost recovery, raising questions about what incentives might encourage state and local governments to make their data more widely available.11 It is not clear whether policy and technical mechanisms can be coordinated so as to encourage the realization of potential benefits from geospatial information while avoiding undesirable social costs. The committee believes that an in-depth analysis is needed of the policy and social implications raised by the collection and increased availability of geospatial information.


Callaway, R.M., and F.W. Davis. 1993. “Vegetation Dynamics, Fire and the Physical Environment in Central California.” Ecology, 74:1567-1578.

Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB), National Research Council. 2001. Embedded, Everywhere. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Crockett, Thomas W. 1998. “Digital Earth: A New Framework for Geo-referenced Data.” Institute for Computer Applications in Science and Engineering Research Quarterly, 7(4), December. Available online at <http://www.icase.edu/RQ/archive/v7n4/DigitalEarth.html>.

Fonseca, Frederico T., Max J. Egenhofer, and Peggy Agouris. 2002. “Using Ontologies for Integrated Geographic Information Systems.” Transactions in GIS, 6(3).

Giglio, L., and J.D. Kendall. 2001. “Application of the Dozier Retrieval to Wildfire Characterization—A Sensitivity Analysis.” Remote Sensing of the Environment, 77(1):34-49.

Gore, Albert, Jr. 1998. “The Digital Earth: Understanding Our Planet in the 21st Century,” given at the California Science Center, Los Angeles, January 31. Available online at <http://www.digitalearth.gov/VP19980131.html>.

MacEachren, Alan M., and Menno-Jan Kraak. 2001. “Research Challenges in Geovisualization.” Journal of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, 28(1):3-12.

Pister, Kris. 2002. “Smart Dust: Autonomous Sensing and Communication in a Cubic Millimeter.” Viewed on April 2, 2002. Available online at <http://robotics.eecs.berkeley.edu/~pister/SmartDust/>.


Of course, as controversy over treatment of driver’s licenses and other state records shows, care is needed in setting the terms and conditions for making available data that bears, for example, on privacy.

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