shrug-l: FW: Victory For Public Access to Government Data

Tripp Corbin tcorbin at
Tue Jul 9 10:53:56 EDT 2013

This has been an interesting case for those that have been following it.
Looks like it has finally been decided. I expect this could lead to similar
cases in other states. 


Tripp Corbin, MCP, CFM, GISP | Chief Executive Officer
 <> eGIS Associates, Inc.

tcorbin at | 

678-710-9710 ext 21 | 866-304-3864 Fax

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From: Bruce Joffe [mailto:GIS.Consultants at] 
Sent: Tuesday, July 09, 2013 10:23 AM
To: bruce_joffe at
Cc: wetlands at; timacase at; timleach3 at;
thutzley at; tomas at; tony.alex at; tseebach at;
tcorbin at; victoriahaas at; sierra.pnt at;
zesandler at; edward.p.arabas at; etp at;
enumaelish1 at; hendo17 at; dhenderson at;
jridener at; johnr at; olofhansen at;
BrannJ at
Subject: Victory For Public Access to Government Data



Dear Colleague,

Interpreting the California Public Records Act in light of California's
Constitution, the California Supreme Court affirmed the public's right of
access to government information in the same format that it is used by
government agencies.  The unanimous decision of all seven Justices
explained, "Openness in government is essential to the functioning of a
democracy.  Implicit in the democratic process is the notion that government
should be accountable for its actions.  In order to verify accountability,
individuals must have access to government files."

It has been over four years (51 months) since the Sierra Club filed suit
against Orange County for access to its GIS-formatted parcel basemap
database ("OC Landbase") under the Public Records Act, which precludes
having to pay the County's price ($475,000) nor having to sign a licensing
agreement restricting use or distribution of the County's data.  A year
after filing, however, the Superior Court decided in favor of Orange County,
agreeing with the County's position that its OC Landbase was excluded from
disclosure as "computer mapping system" software.  Sierra Club appealed, but
14 months later, the Court of Appeal found the statutory language ambiguous,
and supported the County's position that GIS-formatted files fall within the
meaning of "computer mapping system."  

The Sierra Club appealed to the California Supreme Court, which agreed to
hear the case 3 months later.  After another 22 months, the Supreme Court
decided: the lower courts got it wrong.  The Court decision says, "We
believe the public records exemption for 'computer software' (§ 6254.9(a)),
a term that 'includes computer mapping systems' (§ 6254.9(b)), does not
cover GIS-formatted databases like the OC Landbase at issue here."  Orange
County must produce the OC Landbase in response to Sierra Club's request "in
any electronic format in which it holds the information (§ 6253.9(a)(1)) at
a cost not to exceed the direct cost of duplication (§ 6253.9(a)(2))."

The Court cited the California Constitution, (Article I, Section 3,
Subdivision (b)(1)): "The people have the right of access to information
concerning the conduct of the people's business," and Subdivision (b)(2): "A
statute, court rule, or other authority shall be broadly construed if it
furthers the people's right of access, and narrowly construed if it limits
the right of access."   It also made several references to various Amicus
Curiae (Friend of the Court) statements, particularly the brief from "212
GIS Professionals and 23 GIS Organizations" which explained the difference
between software and data, made a distinction between "computer mapping
system" and GIS software, illustrated the need for the GIS-formatted
database over PDF-format pictures of the data, and pointedly noted that 49
out of California's 58 counties are able to maintain their GIS databases
without having to sell public record data.  

Your endorsement of the GIS Amicus Brief substantially helped win this case.

Your interest and encouragement helped us carry on through initial
disappointments to prevail.  Thank you for your support.  

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, in which the GIS
community is called upon to lend its expertise and participation to defend
and extend our democratic rights and professional integrity.  Liberty
requires vigilance.  Working together, our efforts can make a difference.  

You can download the text of the decision at
0&doc_id=1985061&doc_no=S194708> &doc_id=1985061&doc_no=S194708.

Carrying On,


        Bruce Joffe, GISP
        Organizer, Open Data Consortium project
        c/o GIS Consultants
        902 Rose Ave.
        Piedmont, CA  94611
        GIS.Consultants at



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