Spatial Law and its Relevance to Geospatial Practitioners

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Taking a look at spatial law and its application within GIS, this is the first of a three-article series on Spatial Law that focuses on the issues surrounding spatial technologies, the responsibilities and legalities thereon. 

Recent years have witnessed a seamless merging of disruptive technologies with the geospatial. The amount of data being processed is phenomenal, no longer limited to geographies, technologies or data types. GIS is increasingly being infused with Big Data capabilities, open source projects, and crowdsourced applications. At the same time, the regulations are minimal. This has given rise to litigations, with the issues surrounding spatial data cutting across legal disciplines. The prolific use of commercial imagery, UAVs, GPS technology, and location based applications, has further raised questions of geospatial data capture, usage and accountability. The lines between geospatial service and use of drones or GPS integration are becoming fuzzier. Cases of unregulated data capture and sharing have thus driven the need for a comprehensive policy framework to address use of geospatial technologies and spatial data.

In the United States, despite various statutes, the progress on the policy and implementation front has been outpaced by the advances in technology and applications. Across Europe and other countries, existing laws are yet to keep up with the development of the geospatial industry. Spatial technologies are increasingly being applied by first responders and humanitarians, besides commercial users. Safeguarding privacy, security and the rights of intellectual property have thus emerged as important considerations.

Figure (i) Spatial Law and Policy links from around the Globe - BatchGeo

Figure (i) Spatial Law and Policy links from around the Globe – BatchGeo

Spatial Law and its Relevance to Geospatial Practitioners

Geospatial practitioners work with diverse technologies, mapping or cloud services, applications, multiple data types and sources. They work in government departments, private sector, non-profits or self-designed geospatially driven domains. Regardless, all practitioners need to be aware of the policies and regulations governing spatial technologies and practice areas. This safeguards intellectual rights, ensures efficient and ethical use of spatial data and prevents litigation or post mortem scenarios.

1a.What is Spatial Law?

Geospatial technologies have a location component which is often critical to privacy and security. When used for government, administration and functional purpose, or even emergency response, location technolgies are the driving force of smooth operations, response and mitiagtion. However, with the emergence of new technolgies and an accelerated progression in the use of Big Data and anlytics, the applications have become diverse and seamless. This calls for a mechanism of policy implementation to ensure gainful use while safeguarding safety, ethics and security.

Spatial Law is an emerging area of law that deals exclusively with spatial technology and its applications. It is part of a government’s policy making process for regulation of lawful, ethical and bona fide use of spatial technologies and practice areas. Spatial law would thus include legislations concerning the collection, visualization, distribution and use of spatial data using various geospatial technologies or other technologies with a location component.

1b. Spatial Law and Spatial Policy

While Spatial Policies are in place in most countries, they have come about in an unplanned manner. Either as a political response to a heated debate or in reaction to security concerns. Very often increase in law suits related to data or geospatial technologies such as UAVs have given shape to policies at the Federal level.

However, Spatial Law is driven by Spatial Policies. And for any policy implementation to be effective, it must work in tandem with a formal Spatial Law and regulatory mechanism.

1c. What does Spatial Law govern?

Figure (ii) Geospatial Technologies and Applications – the two areas governed by Spatial Law

Figure (ii) Geospatial Technologies and Applications – the two areas governed by Spatial Law

Spatial Law includes accountability, taxation and contractual obligations in spatial data capture, usage and distribution. This would govern acquisition and ownership rights of data used, licensing of Geospatial technologies like UAVs for commercial gain, sharing of data in various practice areas leveraging location intelligence and penalties for non-compliance of regulatory policies in place.

1d. Spatial Law and Geospatial Technologies

Figure (iii) Geospatial technologies that are governed by Spatial Law and Policy

Figure (iii) Geospatial technologies that are governed by Spatial Law and Policy

1e. Spatial Law and Geospatial Applications

Figure (iv) Geospatial applications that are governed by Spatial Law and Policy

Figure (iv) Geospatial applications that are governed by Spatial Law and Policy

–> Next: Spatial Law and Geospatial Technologies

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