Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting
Tues., March 24, 2009
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
8:00-11:50 a.m., Riviera Hotel, Skybox 208
Francis Harvey (U. of Minnesota)
Dawn Wright (Oregon State U.)
Images to left courtesy of Las Vegas Tourism Bureau. Reload page to see another.
Ethical engagements with the multitude of GIS applications and uses, whether
surreptitious or overt, have marked recent developments in the field. Indeed,
the variety of applications of geographic information science & technology
(GIS&T) has led the U.S. Department of Labor to highlight "geographic
technology" as the third largest high-growth job field for the 21st century.
While the potential benefits and risks of geographic technologies are becoming
well known, the ethical issues are less widely engaged. For instance:
Geographic technologies are surveillance technologies. The data they produce may be used to invade the privacy, and even the autonomy, of individuals and groups.
Data gathered using geographic technologies are used to make policy decisions. Erroneous, inadequately documented, or inappropriate data can have grave consequences for individuals and the environment.
Geographic technologies have the potential to exacerbate inequities in society, insofar as large organizations enjoy greater access to technology, data, and technological expertise than smaller organizations and individuals.
Papers in this session engaged with the above issues in relationship to
GIScience, including such topics as:
case studies, curriculum development, or the pedagogy of teaching GIS
issues of privacy, surveillance, inequity, erroneous or inappropriate data concerning geographic technologies;
codes of ethics and conduct of professional organizations;
GIS professional development;
reflections on the changing nature of ethical issues in GIS&T
Abstract. This presentation discusses a course designed to teach GIS ethics offered in Fall 2008 at the University of Minnesota. Beginning with a brief presentation of students in the professional master's degree program in GIScience, the talk moves on to summarize the syllabus, which was divided into three parts, the concepts, and key points from discussions. The presentation will largely focus on reflections on each of these parts. Above all, the presentation asks the question "how does professional ethics matter to students?" rather than the question "why does professional ethics matter for students?" that academics in geography seem more prone to ask. Applied ethics offers concepts to think about the pedagogical as well as theoretical challenges.
Presenter 2: Nancy Obermeyer,
Applying Virtue Ethics in the GIS Community[Presentation file]
Abstract. The coalescence of the GIS profession in the U.S. became a
reality with the formalization of a code of ethics and rules of conduct
by the GIS Certification Institute. This paper recommends that one more
element be added to the ethics suite for GIS professionals: virtue
ethics. The presentation develops the idea of virtue ethics for GIS
professionals, advocates a formal integration of virtue ethics in the
education of GIS professionals, and proposes specific strategies for
implementation of these recommendations.
Presenter 3: Yvan Bedard,
Professional Ethics, System Design Methods and Geospatial Data Quality[Presentation file]
Abstract. We are entering an era of ubiquitous geospatial information and massive amounts of heterogeneous data. Typical users take digital data for granted, assuming their quality is high and fits the intended usage. This attitude increasingly leads to mistakes since digital data contain uncertainty, their characteristics vary geographically and the needs differ. Many subtleties in spatial referencing methods, measurement techniques, technologies and database design end up being hidden in the data and may lead to results not fitting the intended uses. The common practice of providing metadata has proven to be insufficient. As a result of the increasing number of accidents and Court decisions regarding spatial data quality problems, our Society becomes more sensitive to properly warn users about the quality of spatial data with regards to their usages. This paper presents an approach to reduce the risks of misuse of geospatial data by improving database design methods with a risk management strategy. It integrates concepts from geomatics engineering, software engineering, risk management, professional ethics and quality-related standards such as ISO 191XX, ISO 3864-2, ANSI X535.4. This paper also presents how this works fits within a more global project funded by GEOIDE in Canada which involves engineers, geographers and lawyers from academia, industry and key government agencies from Canada and abroad. Finally, an overview of the impacts on education and regular courses is also given.
Presenter 4: Teresa Scassa,
U. of Ottawa,
Privacy in Public Space: Google Latitude, Location-Based Applications, and the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy[Presentation file]
Abstract. The use of geographic information systems can raise
privacy issues in three broad categories of activity: location, tracking
and surveillance. Privacy rights typically pit the interests of autonomous
individuals against those of the state. As a result, existing privacy
paradigms rely on distinctions between public and private spheres. The
tension between public and private interests in the privacy paradigm has
given rise to the classic balancing mechanism, the "reasonable expectation
of privacy," articulated in the decision of the United States Supreme
Court in U.S. v. Katz. This paper examines the concept of the "reasonable
expectation of privacy" in the context of geographical information systems.
Based on an analysis of relevant legislation and court decisions in the
United States, Canada and Europe, the author considers the following issues:
Is there a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in public spaces? Is location
data essentially public in character? Does the public nature of
geographical information outweigh any private interests, and in what
circumstances? Do any privacy interests in geospatial data vary depending
on the identity of the party who collects the information and the uses to
which it is put? The author concludes that the answers are, to some extent,
culturally contingent, and increasingly influenced by the rhetoric of
national security. The paper is part of a larger project funded by GEOIDE in
Canada and which involves engineers, geographers and lawyers from academia,
industry and key government agencies in Canada and abroad.
Presenter 5: Paul Zandbergen, U. of
Reverse Geocoding and Implications for Geospatial Privacy[Presentation file]
Abstract. The widespread availability of powerful geocoding tools and
the interest in spatial analysis at the individual level have made address
geocoding a widely employed technique in many different fields. However, when
locations of individuals and/or households are made public as published maps
the addresses associated with these locations can be determined using a
technique known as "reverse geocoding." Techniques to preserve geospatial
privacy exist and are collectively referred to as "geographic masking." To
better inform decisions on the nature of masking necessary to effectively
preserve geospatial privacy, a better understanding of the robustness of
reverse geocoding is necessary. A framework for analyzing geospatial privacy
concerns will be presented based on the concept of "probability of discovery."
Results will be presented of an empirical study that characterizes the
capabilities of reverse geocoding using a range of different methods.
Findings suggest that the ability of reverse geocoding varies greatly with
the density of the study area as well as with the nature of the original
geocoding methods. Knowledge of the original geocoding method greatly
increases the probability of discovery and presents the highest risk for a
breach of privacy. Implications for protecting geospatial privacy using
masking and cloaking techniques will be presented.
Presenter 6: John Cloud,
The Earth through a Keyhole[Presentation file]
Abstract. We can now assay the Earth through Google Earth. The new
convergence of relatively high resolution digital remotely-sensed
imagery, superbly geo-positioned, web-accessible (and hence
virtually free), and provided by nominally civilian enterprises, has
transformed the geographic sciences and their practitioners. But at
Google Earth was realized through Google's acquisition of Keyhole
Corporation, a nominally private enterprise which was financed by In-
Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Intelligence Community.
Google has now negotiated an exclusive contract as a purveyor of
mapping search engine data with GeoEye Corporation, for first access
to imagery from the satellite sensor GeoEye-1. But half the half-
billion dollars' cost of GeoEye-1 was paid by the National
Reconnaissance Office. So in what sense are Google and GeoEye
private corporations? What imagery produced by this nexus can we
access? And what can we not access? And what are the scientific and
ethic consequences of this?
This paper situates the current nexus typified by Google Earth/
GeoEye in a longer and larger context that begins with the formation
of what the great social theoretician Dwight Eisenhower identified
as the Military-Industrial-Complex. That complex has always
featured a complex ethnography of exchanges between nominally
civilian and classified clans, mediated by generally secret, and
often interesting, committees and programs. The evolved compromise
in this ethnography has been to purvey data into civilian
applications by stripping it of provenance, as it passes through the
Keyhole. The scientific and ethical implications of this are both
subtle, and enormous.
The paper session was immediately followed by a concluding panel of invited scholars
to engage us in forward-looking discussions about the challenges of teaching
GIS ethical issues, and also on issues that the AAG as an organization might
consider in the professional development of its members.
Background on AGS Bowman Controversy
AAG Council Resolution on Ethics Task Force (March 2009): "Baerwald moved that the executive committee appoint a task force, to be approved by council, to examine the AAG Ethics Statement and make recommendations for modifications to the AAG Ethics Statement to Council for consideration at its fall 2009 meeting. Seconded by Agnew. Passed unanimously."