Law and Government

Update: California Supreme Court Says GIS Data is Public Data and Must be Disclosed

California Supreme Court

California Supreme Court

In an earlier article I urged the California Supreme Court to interpret the California Open Records Act in such as a way as to require local governments to disclose certain GIS data upon request.  In an extremely late update to that case, the CA Supreme Court did exactly this and ruled local governments could not charge licensing or any other fees beyond actual reproduction costs for GIS data.  In this case, the specific issue was about Orange County’s Landbase data.

Using rules of statutory construction and interpretation, the Court had no trouble deciding that disclosure must occur.  The main issue was whether GIS data is classified as “software” under the statute; if it is, as Orange County argued, it is specifically excluded as a public record under the statute and can be disclosed at the government’s discretion.

The Court found the statute to be ambiguous and moved on to see if any legislative history provided insight into the definition of “software.”  Finding none, the Court looked to the objective and goals of the statute and came to simple conclusion:  the point of the Open Records Act is to make more information available to the public and absent any specific exclusion of certain data from mandatory disclosure, the data must be disclosed.  In addition to this, the Court, in a unanimous decision, noted that most other counties voluntarily give away this data and the California voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 declaring all statutes to be broadly interpreted to provide more access to government data, among several other things.

Obviously at any time the California Legislature can amend the statute to specifically exclude GIS data from disclosure, but the Court provided a big win for advocates of open government and those that simply want convenient access to valuable GIS data.

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