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US security body seeks balance between security, access

Some geographic data may be kept classified if it poses a homeland security risk, according to a draft policy from a federal working group.

Officials at the Federal Geographic Data Committee’s Homeland Security Working Group published the draft policy May 3 in an attempt to advise agency officials about identifying sensitive geospatial data and the proper balance of access and security. The group published the guidelines for federal and local governments, private-sector entities and not-for-profit organizations that create and maintain geospatial data.

The policy encourages officials to answer questions such as: Should a neighborhood have access to details about a nearby nuclear plant? If a chemical plant has an emergency, how do people assess the health risks without knowing the plant’s contents?

The policy states that agency officials should assess whether security risks outweigh the benefits of making such information public. When drafting the guidelines, working group officials included representatives from the library community in setting standards.

Committee officials are expected to approve the guidelines in the fall after they review public comments. The deadline could slip depending on the comments, they said.

Some officials, however, are not concerned that geospatial data gives terrorists new information as much as they are concerned that the available data makes information too convenient for potential attackers.

The committee is issuing the guidelines under the authority provided by Office of Management and Budget Circular A-16 to implement the National Spatial Data Infrastructure. They will be reviewed every five years.