This is a big topic in California - has been for years. Should public agencies be allowed to sell digital data that are created and maintained by staff paid with public funds - or should those data have to be provided at no cost (or just the cost of reproduction) under the Public Records Act. It has been an ongoing debate for many years.
Assemblymember Jose Solorio's Bill Threatens Public Access to Government Geodata
On February 14, 2008, California State Assemblymember Jose Solorio introduced a bill, AB1978, to amend Government Code Section 6254.9 of the California Public Records Act (CPRA). As stated in the "Computer Mapping Systems Fact Sheet" issued by his office, the bill seeks to improve the current definition of what constitutes a “computer mapping system.” In fact, the bill distorts the definition of "computer mapping system" further from reality. Moreover, if enacted, this bill would severely weaken the CPRA and reduce the public's access to its governments' records.
The CPRA ensures the public's ability to hold our governmental agencies accountable by guaranteeing access to public records at no more than the direct cost of reproduction. "Public records" include government data and records stored in electronic format. Public records also include computerized maps and associated data, such as those stored in GISs. All government records and data are subject to the CPRA except those types specifically exempted in the CPRA (to protect individual privacy and public safety). Computer software developed by a state or local agency is exempted. "Software" means the programs that instruct computers to manipulate data. Data, the information manipulated by computer software, is not software and is not exempt from the CPRA.
Assemblymember Solorio proposed a new paragraph to add to the CPRA which would exempt "assembled model data, metadata, and listings of metadata" from public records access by the public. I am not sure what meaning he intended by these terms, but my 30 years of experience working as a geographic information consultant to many cities, counties, and state agencies offers the following definitions:
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REVIEW SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS: Background Documents