The ethical implications in the use of Geographic Information technology are highly relevant, especially for developing nations. Furthermore, if the agency that steers geospatial science is the ‘government’ or the ‘state’ itself, then aspects of technical competence (or incompetence) in mapping sciences, misrepresentation of reality and the concern of data accuracy and its description in a transparent manner are some issues that rarely gets questioned. These are perhaps some issues that form the basics of an ethical evaluation of any system.
In the case of countries new to geospatial tools, the models of data dissemination and storage that attempt at cost recovery might prove to be damaging in the long run. Various other detrimental factors are there, like limited access to Internet, lack of basic map culture, hurdles of data accessibility and mandated restrictions. So where is the paradigm that can be ethically correct, people-sensitive and progressive?
What is ethical for the government, the industry (tool providers or box pushers), the academicians, researchers and the end users? Does not the Geographic Information discipline need a basic code of ethics that binds all the stakeholders in the same frequency of growth? How we interpret and set this code might not be an easy task begetting a number of standards and frameworks, but it will at least set in place a progressive contradiction – the contradiction of ethical and unethical practices.
Let me take the case of National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). The NSDI movement in India has gained strength in the last five years. A pilot metadata has been put in place and some bold initiatives have been taken. One of the aims of implementing NSDI is to encourage collection, aggregation and distribution of spatial data, on a common defined set of standards and formats. This infrastructure is supposed to provide a metadata to facilitate users in data procurement. Should not this metadata form the ‘minimum ethical requirement’ for NSDI rather than being a distant desirable output? If we see the whole exercise in the eyes of ‘ethical’ relevance, the equations change – and perhaps it should.
Just like copyright, privacy and IPR issues, there should be a transparent embracement and announcement of code of ethics by every stakeholder in the Geographic Information community.
Would a re-look at NSDI through this new lens of ethics move things in the right direction and the right speed?