GIS in an Age of Homeland Security: Accessing Public Information to Ensure a Sustainable Environment
40 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2007
Critical to the goal of achieving sustainable development is governments' ability to maintain public information, including maps, charts, statistics, and narrative text, about a wide variety of environmental factors, indicators, resources, and threats in easily understandable formats that are readily accessible to the public. While federal and state freedom of information laws help to ensure a relatively high rate of public access to traditional information, such as environmental impact statements, studies and reports,significant environmental events and resources, and census data, the growing use and reliance on geographic information systems ("GIS") has the potential to move the public discourse to a more sophisticated plane. The availability of this data, however, was seriously curtailed in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, despite a Rand report concluding that most of this information would either be of no value to terrorists, or was not uniquely available through government sponsored portals. Withholding important environmental and public health related GIS data compromises important values of our democracy, including government accountability to the people and an open and honest communication between the government and the people. While many may have understood the immediate post-September 11 reaction that produced such an unprecedented shut-down of many information pipelines, these quick reactions should have been temporary in nature, a brief moratorium of sorts. Now that four years have passed, it is time to re-open the flow of facts and figures. Achieving a sustainable environment is dependent upon the ability of the community to access relevant, accurate and timely information from its federal,state, and local governments.
Keywords: GIS, environmental law, freedom of information laws, homeland security
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