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Spatially Speaking
MAPPS Events
Privacy Concerns: Geolocation and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)
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Congress and government agencies are increasingly reliant upon geospatial imagery and data for the management of natural resources; economic development; the management, adjudication, and prevention of future disruptions in the home mortgage system; the development and implementation of a smart energy grid; the deployment of universal domestic broadband service; the management of Federal real property assets; emergency preparedness and response; homeland security; the delivery of efficient health care and other services provided, financed, or regulated by the Federal Government; measuring, monitoring, verifying and validating the effects of climatic and environmental phenomena; and the maintenance, rehabilitation, and enhancement of public works, transportation, and other infrastructure of the United States.

Recent legislative and regulatory efforts to protect consumers and citizens, in the name of "privacy” have cast too wide a net creating unintended consequences for mapping and geospatial firms. Geospatial data is derived from images and data collected from a variety of airborne and space borne platforms, as well as other mobile and terrestrial-based acquisition systems. This imagery and data is regularly and historically collected, utilized and applied in geographic information systems (GIS) by companies engaged in free market commerce and by government authorities operating within the safeguards, rights and framework established by the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed to protect the privacy of individual citizens’ "sensitive” data, including "precise geolocation data” that included, for example, an address. However, FTC did not define the term "precise geolocation data” and the report recommended that before any firm could collect, store, or use such data, it would be required to "provide prominent disclosures and obtain affirmative express consent before using consumer data in a materially different manner than claimed when the data was collected...". In March 2012, the FTC final report, "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change”, provided a single footnote to address the geospatial community’s concerns. It said:

"With respect to use of geolocation data for mapping, surveying or similar purposes, if the data cannot reasonably be linked to a specific consumer, computer, or device, a company collecting or using the data would not need to provide a consumer choice mechanism. Similarly, if a company takes reasonable measures to de-identify smart grid data and takes the other steps outlined above, the company would not be obligated to obtain consent before collecting or using the data.”

MAPPS believes compliance with this requirement is impractical to the point of impossible for geospatial firms. The regulatory language threatens to ban information that is collected by private firms and government entities, and many other tasks that are conducted by geospatial professionals.

Moreover, legislation restricting the use of domestic unmanned aerial vehicles or systems (UAV/UAS), or "drones”, or even conventional aerial surveys, would restrict the legitimate professional activities of firms engaged in mapping and geospatial data, services, and products.

ACTION REQUESTED: MAPPS respectfully urges members of Congress to introduce or cosponsor a resolution stating the sense of the Congress that geospatial imagery and data collection, usage, and application is a valued part of the American economy that enhances the quality of life, and is not synonymous with "precise geolocation data” as such term is used by the Federal Trade Commission, in legislative proposals, and functions in a manner that does not threaten the privacy of individual citizens. For more information, contact John Byrd, MAPPS Government Affairs Manager, at or (703) 787-6996.