The increasing dissemination of geospatial data has the ability to support more informed decisions in a large number of sectors of today’s society. While Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI) activities have increased and diversified over the past decade, we argue that a major focus on technical challenges, such as standards, interoperability and metadata, has occluded other important and often more complex social and legal questions that limit the actual usefulness of these infrastructures for the general public. We believe the main goal and benefit of SDI has been to give people access to geospatial data, without necessarily helping them understand how those data can meet their needs or how to assess the limitations of those data. The number of misuses and
accidents involving geospatial data suggests this data dissemination may not always have been carried out in an ethical manner or in a manner consistent with legal principles.
This paper summarizes the main research findings of a 4-year Canadian GEOIDE project that looked at law, data quality, public protection and ethics in relation to geospatial data. The project involved geomatics engineering professionals, geographers and lawyers, giving a multidisciplinary perspective on those questions. Relatively little work had previously been carried out in Canada on the legal framework related to
geospatial data, including liability, privacy and intellectual property questions. This project, in collaboration with a number of government (e.g. Natural Resources Canada, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Transportation Canada), industry (i.e. Groupe Trifide) and international partners (e.g. CERTU, Eurogeographics, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)), laid important foundations in these areas.