Monday, December 27, 2010

Call to Action: "Privacy" Regulations Threaten Geospatial Profession

Practitioners in the surveying, mapping and geospatial community should act on an urgent issue that will have a particularly adverse impact on business.

There are various efforts underway in the federal government to create new "privacy" protections for citizens. This applies to the collection, storage and use of certain data about individuals, including their address. All use the term "precise geolocation data" and prevent any private firm from collection, storage and use of such data without the citizen's advance approval.  This is an impractical and impossible requirement for private geospatial firms.

While there has been some abuse of personal information by some firms in some sectors, such as phishing -- the process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, on-line habits, e-purchases, credit card info, etc.  in an electronic communication, e.g. Internet - none has involved MAPPS members or the specific geospatial community.

However, these proposals are poorly written, do not define precise geolocation data, and have serious unintended consequences for industries and professions beyond those these Federal authorities are attempting to regulate.

The PowerPoint, which MAPPS Executive Director, John Palatiello, presented to the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) on December 7, 2010, provides background on the issue.

On December 1, 2010, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff issued a report on privacy. While the news media has focused on the proposed, voluntary "Do Not Track" program for web browsers (similar to the "Do Not Call" list for telemarketers), what has gone relatively unnoticed is the fact that the FTC is also proposing regulations and policies that will shut down the geospatial community. Please peruse the FTC news release and the full text of the FTC report. On page 61 it reads, "The Commission staff has supported affirmative express consent where companies collect sensitive information for online behavioral advertising and continues to believe that certain types of sensitive information warrant special protection, such as information about children, financial and medical information, and precise geolocation data. Thus, before any of this data is collected, used, or shared, staff believes that companies should seek affirmative express consent."

There are two major problems with this proposal.
  1. This proposal (like legislation that was introduced but not acted upon by Congress), uses the very broad term "precise geolocation data", but does not define the term. This is very dangerous.
  2. To require that any geospatial firm to get "affirmative express consent" from every citizen about whom precise geolocation data is to be collected is impractical to the point of being impossible. This is not just data about an individual, but any "precise geolocation data". This would require every citizen to be contacted and approval obtained before parcel data is collected, or imagery, or elevation data, or any other geolocation data.

Public comments on this proposal are due January 31, 2011. I respectfully urge you to submit comments. Here are points you may wish to make. Here's how to submit comments.
More recently, on December 16, 2010, the U.S. Commerce Department issued a report, Commercial Data Privacy and Innovation in the Internet Economy: A Dynamic Policy Framework. While this report is more focused on the internet, it includes "Recommendation #10: The Administration should review the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), with a view to addressing privacy protection in cloud computing and location-based services" (p63) "we seek further comment and data from the public concerning ECPA's effects on the adoption of cloud computing and location-based services" (p65), "The social importance and economic value of recent digital communications innovations and new types of information, such as geolocation data collected from cell phones and content (text, voice, and video) stored in cloud computing systems, cannot be overstated" (p65) and The Task Force also seeks input on whether the current legal protections for transactional information and location information raise questions about what commercial data privacy expectations are reasonable and whether additional protections should be mandated by law. The Task Force also invites comments that discuss whether privacy protections for access to location information need clarification in order to facilitate the development, deployment and widespread adoption of new location-based services (p67)."

Here is the Commerce Department's Press Release: Commerce Department Unveils Policy Framework for Protecting Consumer Privacy Online While Supporting Innovation. Please note that comments to the Commerce Department are due January 28. Submit comments to

If you have any questions, please contact John "JB" Byrd, MAPPS Government Affairs Manager, or (703) 787-6996.

I respectfully urge you to submit comments to both the FTC, by January 31 and the Commerce Department, by January 28.

Finally, MAPPS is collecting examples of the activities and applications these proposals would prohibit. Please provide examples in the Comments section below.

More information will be provided, including the MAPPS Comments to both the FTC and Commerce Department, as they become available.

Monday, October 4, 2010

MAPPS Asks Congress to Revise Privacy Legislation Limiting use of "Geolocation Information"

MAPPS sent a letter to the chairman of a house subcommittee, opposing proposed legislative language that would limit the use of "precise geolocation information".

The association said a draft bill, proposed to be introduced by Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, threatens data collection, applications and growth in the private geospatial profession.

The draft bill is intended to protect consumers' privacy by requiring "notice to and consent of an individual prior to the collection and disclosure of certain personal information relating to that individual." However, language included in the bill is a concern to the collection of geospatial data and geospatial lines of business through its provision limiting the collection of "precise geolocation information".

MAPPS believes the current bill language threatens information that is collected by private and government entities to perform E-911 and emergency response management, environmental protection, home security, mortgage foreclosure monitoring/early warning system and many other tasks that are conducted by geospatial professionals.

"The intent of the bill drafted by Rep. Boucher - to protect personal privacy - is laudable, but in its current form, the provisions would result in a number of unintended consequences by severely limiting information collected by the geospatial community for government agencies, to support government programs, and to provide for commercial applications that consumers are demanding in the marketplace," said Jeff Lovin, MAPPS President (Woolpert, Inc., Dayton, OH).

The current draft exempts government agencies from its limitations. MAPPS urged Rep. Boucher to more clearly define the term "precise geolocation information," exempt data collected by private sector firms under contract to government or for sale to government agencies, and exempt private individuals who are already regulated and licensed to practice by State licensing boards, as well as exempt commercial satellite remote sensing firms that are licensed to operate by the Federal Government.

The full letter sent by MAPPS can be viewed here.

The draft legislation can be viewed here.

MAPPS Salary and Non-Cash Benefits Survey Available

MAPPS recently completed the 2010 Salary and Non-Cash Benefits Survey. This survey was conducted among the "regular member firms" of MAPPS --- firms based in the United States that provide geospatial services and data.  This select group of MAPPS firms was utilized for the survey in order to have a homogenous group on which to make "apples to apples" comparisons of compensation data.

The survey results have been shared with the participating firms and to MAPPS Associate Members at no cost.  The report is available to MAPPS regular member firms that did not participate in the survey for $250 and to non-members for $500.

Results of the survey included:
• More vacation time, but less carryover of that time than ever before;
• Employers paying larger percentage of single and family health insurance costs than ever before;
• A significant drop in bonuses, the lowest since the salary survey was first conducted in 2004;
• Largest differences in top level employee pay between geographic regions, with the mountain region having the highest pay levels;
• Lowest Benefit/Cost ratio ever.

A PowerPoint presentation was presented at the MAPPS summer conference by committee chairs Dave Hart (Continental Mapping Consultants, Sun Prairie, WI) and Marvin Miller (Aero-Metric, Inc., Maple Grove, MN). The presentation is available in the members only section of the MAPPS website.

The 64-page report is the most comprehensive compensation survey in the geospatial profession.  It is the best way to benchmark  a firm's wage and benefits program with others in the community.

There are two ways to purchase the report, by sending a check to:

ATTN: Salary Survey
1856 Old Reston Avenue, Suite 205
Reston, VA 20190

Or, by calling Amber VerValin in the MAPPS office at 703-787-6996. She will process credit card payments.

Monday, September 20, 2010

President's Column- September 2010

After several sessions and calls for comments to solicit input from the membership, the MAPPS Board of Directors has given its final approval to an update of the association’s strategic plan.

One issue that attracted comments from several members was the need for a comprehensive geospatial market study. While the Board made some revisions to the strategic plan, the Board decided to focus special attention to the need for a market study.

Ironically, shortly after the Board considered the need for a market study in its strategic plan deliberations, an email call was sent to the member organizations of the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO), an umbrella alliance of all the national geospatial-related associations, seeking data on the geospatial market.  That exchange exposed once again the dearth of information on our market and the need for a comprehensive study.

MAPPS has long had an interest in accurate data on the market in which our members do business.  Hardly a month goes by that our staff does not receive a call from a Wall Street analyst, a merger and acquisition consultant, or others seeking current, accurate and comprehensive geospatial market study data.

In 2006, then-Senator George Allen (R-VA) introduced S.4006, the Imagery, Mapping, and Geospatial Enhancement (IMAGE) Act.  This bill would have authorized the Office of Space Commercialization in the U.S. Department of Commerce to expand its responsibilities to be more active in promoting commercial satellite and airborne, and value-added remote sensing and geospatial firms.  Included in the bill was a call for the Office to “evaluate the efforts of each Federal agency, and of the private sector, to assist commercial remote sensing firms (and) provide statistical information on the utilization of such firms by the Federal Government.”

As a member of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC), MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello suggested in 2009, “there is a need for baseline information about geospatial activities, in and related to the Federal government and other stakeholders, and updated classifications systems, in order to plan for the future and measure results … there is no current, accurate market study that measures the size of the geospatial market, tracks changes, or analyzes market segments in a useful manner.” He recommended that the Federal Government develop and implement an activity to collect data to benchmark, manage, measure and monitor.”  His “you can't manage what you can't measure” mantra continued to resonate in the community.

Of all the organizations in the geospatial community, MAPPS has perhaps the greatest need for such a market study, second only to the Federal government itself.  Given our position in the market, I am forming a task force to explore the following on an approach to a market study --

1. The feasibility of a thorough, comprehensive geospatial market study;

2. A definition of the “geospatial market” that we would want to study and quantify;

3. A survey/summary of existing studies and an assessment of the gaps, deficiencies, omissions, biases or shortcomings of existing studies;

4. A methodology for conducting a study;

5. Whether it is possible to get the Federal Government to fund such a study, or if that is not possible, who would conduct a study;

6. If the Federal government does not do the study, who would fund it;

7. What would be the cost of a study;

MAPPS Director Bob Hickey (Photo Science, Inc.) has agreed to chair this task force. The following members (which would give us a cross-section of the membership including men, women, large, small, north, south, east, west, services, data/products, members, associates, marketers, producers, airborne, satellite) have agreed to serve: Charles Mondello, Pictometry; Shawana Johnson, Global Marketing Insights; Tina Cary, Cary and Associates; Kevin Corbley, Corbley Communications; Mark Baker, ESRI; Ken Spratlin, Trimble; George Southard, Leica; Kass Green, Kass Green Associates; Dawn Sienicki, DigitalGlobe; Harry Voccola, Navteq; Garth Lawrence, Intermap.

I am also extending an invitation to our COGO partners, the trade publication editors and colleagues in the Federal government to be ex officio members of the task force.

In the near future, all MAPPS members will be sent information on how to provide input to the task force.  Your ideas on how such a market study can be undertaken are most welcome.