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Sunday, April 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

County Must Release Mapping Data, Court Says

(CN) - A California appeals court ordered Santa Clara County to disclose data from its geographic mapping system, saying the case "raises weighty questions of first impression, which illuminate tensions between federal homeland security provisions and our state's open public record laws."

The California First Amendment Coalition asked for a copy of Santa Clara County's geographic information system (GIS) basemap, described as "an information technology that combines computer mapping and database technologies to improve the management and analysis of location based information."

The county denied the request, citing the Homeland Security Act, copyright law and an exemption from an open records law. The county sells copies of the map, usually to other government entities, and then requires the signing of a non-disclosure agreement.

The trial court rejected the county's arguments and ordered the release of the map.

The 6th District Court of Appeal agreed, first noting that Homeland Security law does not apply because the county is providing information, not receiving it.

Justice McAdams also wrote that the public would have an interest in the map, as it could "contribute to the understanding of government activities."

For similar reasons, the map would not be excluded from public records law because "the public's interest in disclosure of the GIS basemap is neither hypothetical nor minimal," McAdams wrote.

Finally, in a question of first impression in California, McAdams ruled that the applicable copyright law only applies to software.

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