[ESIP-all] FW: NGA Proposal to Withdraw Geographic Data and Maps]

Carol B. Meyer carol.meyer at earthsciencefoundation.org
Tue Mar 29 08:44:14 EST 2005

The following may be of interest to you.




NGA Proposal to Withdraw Geographic Data and Maps


Thu, 24 Mar 2005 13:16:42 -0500


Harlan Onsrud  <mailto:onsrud at spatial.maine.edu%3e>
<onsrud at spatial.maine.edu>

Dear UCGIS Members,
I believe this is an issue of general interest to the mapping 
academic community. As many of you know, the National Geospatial 
Intelligence Agency (NGA) intends to withdraw all of its aeronautical 
products from public access. The federal register announcements may 
be found at http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2004/11/nga111804.html and 
Are we as academics informed about and voicing our opinions on this matter?
Below is a recent comment from a private cartography firm. Further 
commentaries or resources on the issue may be found in the resources 
listed at the end of this message.
If you are interested in making a "for" or "against" comment to NGA, 
you have until June 30 to do so.  Send your comments to 
aero.ocr at nga.mil
If you wish to share your opinion with others in addition to the NGA, 
perhaps join the list at 
http://lists.gsdi.org/mailman/listinfo/legal-econ and ship a copy to 
that list.
Best, Harlan Onsrud
onsrud at spatial.maine.edu
Forwarded from a private distribution list with permission.
Date: Tue, 22 Mar 2005 18:35:18 -0600
Dear All:
Peter Weiss of NOAA has asked me to step in for him and send a quick 
summary on a rather arcane but nonetheless vital subject:  the 
Pentagon's planned total withdrawal from public access of thousands 
of maps and associated databases dealing with global aviation.  The 
clock is ticking: the Pentagon's mapping agency, NGA, has set a 
deadline of June 30 for public objections.  (This deadline was 
already extended once, from January 17.)  If left unchallenged, then 
on October 1, 2005 largest act of cartographic censorship in US 
history will proceed as currently outlined in the Federal Register.
A detailed background piece on this subject is found at 
(1.4 Mb)
As the primary author of this, I am happy to provide further 
information or answer any questions.
The NGA withdrawal of global aeronautical charts is unfortunately 
just one of a number of negative steps by this agency.  All point in 
the same direction:  dramatically decreasing access to the US public 
of global mapping and imagery data of all kinds.  In mid-2004 NGA 
succeeded in a ten-year quest to have many of their publications 
exempted from disclosure under the provisions of the Freedom of 
Information Act (FOIA).  Then shortly before the 2004 Thanksgiving 
holidays NGA quietly issued an announcement in the Federal Register 
to withdraw aeronautical charts.  As part of the counter response to 
this action, it became apparent to myself and others that--pending 
their success on the aeronautical front--NGA also planned to withdraw 
from the US public another entire class of mapping data, namely their 
global nautical charts.  (Withdrawing these charts, for example, 
would severely compromise independent or journalistic investigations 
of such accidents as the recent crash of the USS San Francisco. 
Using a flawed and out-of-date NGA nautical chart, the submarine 
plowed at full speed into an uncharted seamount in the Pacific Ocean, 
killing one sailor and severely injuring dozens more.)  And in the 
past year NGA lawyers have begun to threaten independent websites 
such as GlobalSecurity.org, who have played an important part in 
illustrating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with NGA products of 
all kinds not easily available by other means.  In short, NGA's 
publications are rapidly becoming like DoD organizational charts and 
telephone directories--formerly public, and now totally restricted to 
US Federal officials.
Leading NGA's rationale for cutting US public access to these maps is 
the oft-cited Global War on Terror.  The attached background piece 
examines this issue in detail.  In fact the "terrorist threat" 
argument is a canard. Peter Weiss reminded me that NGA itself 
commissioned and paid for a major RAND Corporation study on precisely 
this issue in the aftermath of September 11.  The RAND conclusion: 
NGA's (and other US Government) maps in the public domain should 
remain in the public domain.  Initial fears of the utility of such 
items to terrorists were overblown; moreover, real damage to the 
public welfare would occur should the maps and associated data be 
restricted.  The RAND study may be found at www.fgdc.gov.
In fact the main reason for the NGA's quiet urgency to see 
aeronautrical charts removed from public access stems from 
bureacratic incompetency.  The whole issue was sparked by a row with 
NGA's Australian counterpart in a dispute over the fate of 
copyrighted Australian aeronautical data in an NGA global database 
known as "DAFIF" (Defense Aeronautical Flight Information File).  The 
dispute was a completely foreseeable issue, preceeded by years of 
Australian requests to protect their data in bilateral negotiations. 
(The Australians, similar to the British and to a lesser degree the 
Canadians, take an aggressive commercial approach to data created at 
government expense.)  In spring 2004 the Australians announced their 
intention to cease current data contributions to the NGA database, 
which is re-issued every four weeks.  NGA officials had plenty of 
time to avoid this outcome, which with the absence of current 
Australian aeronautical data technically poses a threat to any user 
of this database over that part of the Earth's skies covered by the 
traditional global division-of-labor by the US and its map-making 
allies.  (The focus of the Australians' frustration was the 
highly-profitable Jeppesen-Sanderson company, a Boeing subsidiary and 
commercial provider of aeronautical databases who add value to and 
repackage the NGA DAFIF database.)  The easiest and most obvious 
solutions somehow eluded the NGA officials.  First, they could have 
issued the database with a notice that specific elements were 
copyrighted by other data providers (functionally NGA had done the 
same thing with Australian paper maps made available to the US public 
for many years).  Alternatively, they could have issued a redacted 
version of the database (with notice of the affected areas to warn 
civil aviation users of data-void areas) for the US public, which 
would have left intact the 95+ percent of the database content not 
affected by foreign government copyright claims.
Finally, the restriction of NGA data is basically nothing more than a 
speed bump (perhaps more appropriate to the circumstances--minor 
turbulence) to the commercial sector.  Large companies like Jeppesen 
will continue serving up expensive databases to their clients, and 
sooner or later they will reach a business accord with the 
Australians.  Any increased costs will just be passed along to the 
ultimate consumer of civil aviation, the passenger.  And even for 
some small companies, like East View Cartographic, the disappearance 
of cheap US government maps and databases will remove a certain 
source of competition.  Believe me, we have already bought up all the 
available NGA products, paper and digital.  The day NGA stops selling 
to the public is the day we raise our prices.  Sorry, it's the 
American way. But it will make life more difficult for the average 
consumer or public library who no longer has access to one of the 
great gifts of the Pentagon to the world--a global set of 
English-language charts at five different levels of detail that is 
affordable to anyone (and free to hundreds of libraries via the 
Federal Library Depository Program).  In the short and medium term, 
the private sector will actually benefit from cartographic 
censorship.  But in the long term, eventually we ourselves will 
become targets of the censors--if nothing else as a putative source 
of comfort and data to America's terrorist enemies.
Best regards,
Kent D. Lee
President and CEO
East View Cartographic, Inc.
Minneapolis, MN
klee at cartographic.com
Further commentaries or resources on this issue may be found at the 
following links:
Secrecy News
The Age of Missing Information, by Aftergood
Teaching Guide for "Terrorism and Democratic Virtues" Essays, Social 
Science Research Council 
Access to Geographic Information: Openness versus Security, by Onsrud
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