How Homeland Security Affects Spatial
by Linda Zellmer
A recent article in SecurityFocus1 described
the fact that several U.S. government buildings in Washington, D.C., could
no longer be clearly seen by people using MapQuest's aerial photo database.
The resolution of aerial photos over the Capitol Building and the Naval Observatory
grounds (the vice president's residence) has been decreased so that the buildings
cannot be clearly seen. In addition, the roofs of the White House, Old Executive
Office Building, and the Treasury Department have been masked with a solid
color so that features on the roofs are no longer visible. A government secrecy
watchdog group, Cryptome, has posted "before" and "after" photos on its Web
site.2 According to the article, the photos were altered at the
request of the U.S. Secret Service.
This is an example of spatial information that was rendered unavailable after
Sept. 11, 2001. It is not an isolated incident; such things have occurred both
before and after 9/11. As a librarian who has dealt with spatial information
for nearly 20 years, I have learned that access to it is not guaranteed. Data
has been withheld or withdrawn for a variety of reasons. Therefore, when the
Cartographic Users Advisory Council (CUAC) was invited to participate in the
Homeland Security Working Group of the Federal Geographic Data Committee, I
eagerly volunteered in hopes of being able to influence the information that
would be available to future library users.
Spatial information has a variety of forms. It can be a place name in a database
such as the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), a map, or an aerial
photograph. Even before Sept. 11, 2001, there were a number of reasons why
government agencies withheld information from libraries and the public. In
this article, I will discuss five of them: Data availability was limited because
of the Cold War, federal legislation protecting certain types of natural and
relict human features, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs),
exorbitant government information pricing, and the threat of potential terrorism.
Then I'll discuss what started happening after 9/11, when data that had already
been posted really started to disappear. One of the main problems was that
agencies that removed information did so in isolation, without guidance, and
did not check to see what other agencies and organizations were doing. Finally,
I'll mention how a Homeland Security Working Group that I'm a member of is
moving toward solutions.
Data that Disappeared (Or Was Unavailable) Before 9/11
Although very few people are aware of it, the Cold War had a significant
impact on the volume of spatial information made available to libraries and
the public. While I was geology and map librarian at the University of Wyoming
in the late 1980s, the library was able to order the National High Altitude
Program aerial photographs of the entire stateexcept for the areas
with the nuclear missile silos on the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, east
of Cheyenne. According to Roger Payne, executive secretary of the U.S. Board
on Geographic Names, active military installations were removed from the Geographic
Names Information System at the request of the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA)
during the early 1980s. DMA objected to the fact that listings for features
in the database included precise latitudes and longitudes. Despite the end
of the Cold War, military installations have not been added to the GNIS database,
although they can be clearly identified when viewing the Federal Lands data
layer in the National Atlas of the United States (http://www.nationalatlas.gov),
which is also produced by the USGS; lands managed by the military are shaded
in hot pink. Even more detailed information, including maps, can sometimes
be found on military base Web sites.3 (See Figure 1.)
Legislation is another reason for the disappearance of spatial information.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (PL 101-601, 25
U.S.C. 3001) protects Native American graves and their contents. Information
about archaeological sites, their locations, and their contents is protected
under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (PL 96-95; 16 U.S.C. 470hh).
The Federal Cave Resource Protection Act (PL 100-691, 16 U.S.C. 63) safeguards
caves on federal lands; 27 states also have laws protecting cave resources.
Finally, the Endangered Species Act (PL 93-205, 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544) shields
ecosystems to preserve endangered plants and animals.
Since these laws were passed, the USGS has removed cave entrances from its
topographic maps and the publicly accessible version of the GNIS. According
to the GNIS frequently asked questions list,4 people who want cave
location information can request it through the Secretary of the Interior's
office. Agencies have also removed archaeological sites from their maps. The
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and other federal agencies do not release
the exact locations of endangered species. However, information on specific
locations of archaeological sites and endangered species habitats can be
obtained from state Natural Heritage Program and historic preservation agencies.
So some groups remove the data, yet others don't.
Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) are the primary
reason for loss of spatial data access during the years immediately prior to
9/11. A CRADA is a contract between a federal government agency and a private
company or organization to jointly develop a product or commercialize information
produced by the federal agency. CRADAs are an offshoot of the Stevenson-Wydler
Technology Innovation Act of 1980 (PL 96-480, 15 U.S.C. 3701), as amended in
1986 by the Federal Technology Transfer Act (PL 99-502).
Information developed through a CRADA can be withheld from Freedom of Information
Act requests for up to 5 years, even if the information was originally developed
by a federal agency. When agencies enter into a CRADA, data that could have
come to a library for free through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP)
must instead be purchased, and cannot be copied by users.
Here is one example: Maptech is producing digital nautical raster charts,
scanned nautical charts that can be used to help mariners navigate with a global
positioning system, through a CRADA with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA). Last fall, the USGS removed from the public domain the
Global GIS Database sections for North America, Europe, and Northern Asia,
which were supposed to be sent to libraries through the FDLP. They are now
only available for a fee through the American Geological Institute, the USGS's
In the case of spatial information, data costs could be considerable. A number
of agencies that produce spatial dataincluding the USGS, National Imagery
and Mapping Agency (NIMA), and NOAAare working with corporate partners
to develop and disseminate spatial information, thus removing it from the public
In the early 1990s, depository librarians were informed that the USGS would
be providing Digital Raster Graphics (DRG) and Digital Orthophoto Quarterquadrangles
(DOQQ) through the FDLP. However, because of budget problems, slow sales, and
other difficulties, the USGS pulled this data from the FDLP. At about the same
time, the USGS and Microsoft announced a CRADA to deliver the data over the
Internet. As a result of this CRADA, libraries that wanted to provide DRGs
and DOQQs received through the FDLP to their users were forced to purchase
the data. At the time, pricing for this data was considerably higher than that
of today, and was beyond the limit of many library budgets. USGS even forced
other federal agencies to purchase the data, a move that proved beneficial
to some libraries, as some agencies that purchased DRGs and DOQQs from USGS
circumvented the sales program and made free copies for the libraries.
In the 1990s, section 112 of the Clean Air Act required the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) to collect Risk Management Plans designed to address
accident mitigation at chemical plants. These plans, which were supposed to
be publicly available by 1999, should have contained an executive summary;
information on the facility, including name, location, owner, and chemicals
available; worst-case scenario information; accident history; prevention programs;
and emergency response plans. However, before the plans were posted, the FBI,
CIA, and Congress became concerned about whether the information could be used
by terrorists. Therefore, the EPA reconsidered public access to the Risk Management
Plans, and only posted portions of them on its Web site. Worst-case scenarios
(information on the area that might be affected by a chemical accident, Figure
2), were only available in reading rooms.5
Data Availability Since 9/11
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, had a profound impact on information access,
including access to spatial information, especially on the Web. OMBWatch and
the Government Documents Round Table of the American Library Association have
both compiled lists of government information that has disappeared because
of the threat of terrorism.6, 7 Much of the spatial data that has
been removed from the Web and libraries contains information regarding critical
infrastructure, including water supply, transportation, emergency services,
and energy. Access to environmental information has also been curtailed.
A major post-9/11 problem was that agencies removed data in isolation.
According to the Chronology of Disappearing Government Information and
other sources, government agencies began to remove information from Web sites
soon after the 9/11 attacks. Here are some examples:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut down its Web site to
review the information it was making available to the public. When the site
again, information on the location and operations of nuclear power plants,
as well as their aerial photos, had been removed.8
Nuclear facilities were also removed from the GNIS and the
National Atlas of the United States.
The Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety
removed the National Pipeline Mapping System.9
NIMA asked the USGS and Federal Aviation Administration to
discontinue sales of their large-scale topographic maps.
NIMA also asked the Library of Congress (LC) and National Archives
and Records Administration (NARA) not to
allow people to use NIMA-produced maps;10 public access to most
maps at LC and NARA has since been restored.
From November 2001 until January 2002, NIMA purchased exclusive
rights to Ikonos imagery of Afghanistan from Space
Imaging, a company in Thornton, Colo.,11 which meant that no other
organizations could purchase the data.
Water resource reports have been removed from the USGS's Web
sites and depository libraries.
The USGS asked the Government Printing Office to order depository
libraries to withdraw and destroy the publication Source Area
Characteristics of Large Public Surface-Water Supplies in the Conterminous
An Information Resource for Source-Water Assessment (USGS Open File Report
A recent report on Terrorism Preparedness by the National Conference
on State Legislatures indicated that as of June 30, 2003, 34 states had
passed laws to exempt information about public water supplies from open records
requirements;13 some states have also exempted building plans for
airports and public buildings from open records laws.
The EPA has removed all Risk Management Plans from its Web
site and limited the querying capabilities of its Envirofacts database.14
Interestingly, most of the spatial data that has been withdrawn by government
agencies is available from other agencies or from the private sector. In fact,
a student working on a dissertation at George Mason University was able to
find enough publicly accessible data to identify vulnerable links in the nation's
critical infrastructure.15 U.S. pipeline, refinery, and energy production
and transmission data can be licensed from PennWell, a company that markets
energy and petroleum information. Although some states have removed pipeline
data from their geospatial data collections, others have not. Either way, pipelines
can be easily found along roads; their routes have been cleared of vegetation
and are marked by signs announcing buried pipelines. Plus, many of the NIMA
maps that could not be used by researchers at LC and NARA are available
in depository libraries. So researchers can simply search WorldCat to determine
where the maps are available. Information on public water systems is available
from the EPA's Local Drinking Water Information Web site (http://www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo.htm).
And here's proof that limiting access to chemical plants' Risk Management
Plans has not made the facilities more secure. A recent 60 Minutes report, "U.S.
Plants: Open to Terrorists," examined security at chemical plants.16 Correspondent
Steve Kroft, a camera operator, and Carl Prine, a reporter for the Pittsburgh
Tribune Review, were able to enter a chemical plant and walk around unchallenged
for nearly 20 minutes. After leaving the plant, they were confronted by security
and escorted to the plant's main office, where the local police were summoned.
They were merely cited for trespassing, which carries a $25 fine.
Securing Spatial Data
It is clear that some of the original information that has been removed from
public access is available from other sources, including commercial organizations
and other government agencies. The National States Geographic Information Council
(NSGIC) and the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) became concerned about
the lack of guidance regarding access to spatial information. NSGIC developed
a decision tree (Figure 3) to help its members judge whether data should be
secured or offered publicly.17
"The events of Sept. 11, 2001, had a profound impact on information access,
including access to spatial information, especially on the Web."
The FGDC established a Homeland Security Working Group to address concerns
about publicly accessible spatial data and other issues. The Working Group
is developing guidelines to identify sensitive spatial data and to determine
if the need for security outweighs public benefit from access to the data.
Two librariansTsering Wangyal Shawa, geographic information systems librarian
at Princeton University, and Iwere asked to represent the cartographic
user community during the Working Group's discussions to develop guidelines
for spatial data access. The guidelines are still under review at this time,
so they are not yet available to the public. But rest assured, we're working
Cartographic Users Advisory Council (CUAC)an organization
that deals with issues involving cartographic materials and spatial data.
It comprises 12 representatives from six national and regional library
Defense Mapping Agency (DMA)an arm of the Department of
Defense that produces nautical and aeronautical charts and other maps
and spatial data needed by the military. It became part of the National
Imagery and Mapping Agency in 1996.
Digital Raster Graphics (DRG)a scanned image of a USGS
Digital Orthophoto Quarterquadrangles (DOQQ)a digital
aerial photograph that covers one-quarter of the area of a topographic
map. The photograph has been corrected for distortion caused by camera
Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)a committee of
representatives from U.S. government agencies that develops policies,
standards, and procedures to enable sharing of geospatial data among
Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)a database of
place names that lists all features that appear on the 1:24,000 USGS
National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)an agency in
the Department of Defense that produces nautical and aeronautical charts,
maps, and spatial data needed by the military. It has now been renamed
the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC)an
organization of state geographic technology information agencies
1. Poulsen, Kevin. "Secret Service airbrushes aerial photos." SecurityFocus.
Dec. 17, 2003. http://www.securityfocus.com/news/7671
2. Cryptome. "UnEyeballing the U.S. Seats of Power." Dec. 28, 2003.
3. Luke Air Force Base. Welcome to Luke 2000: The
Largest Fighter Wing in the Air Force. Base Guide, Luke Air Force Base.
Marcoa Publishing, Inc. Feb. 6, 2004. https://www.luke.af.mil/news/luke.pdf
4. United States Geological Survey. "Frequently Asked
Questions about GNIS." Jan. 14, 2003. http://geonames.usgs.gov/faqs.html
5. Amdahl, Gary. Disaster Response: GIS for Public Safety. ESRI,
Inc. (2002): p. 35.
6. OMBWatch. "Access to Government Information Post
September 11th." May
3, 2002. http://www.ombwatch.org/article/articleview/213/1/1
7 Miller, Barbara. "Chronology of Disappearing Government Information:
Data collected through October 31, 2002." ALA/GODORT Education Committee. Oct.
8. Matthews, William. "Walking a Fine Line on Web Access." Federal
Computer Week. Feb. 4, 2002.
9. Carroll, Jill. "Aftermath of Terror: Government Agencies Shut Some
Web Sites, Fearing Information Could Aid Terrorists." The Wall Street Journal (Eastern
edition). New York. (Oct. 3, 2001): p. A10.
10. Peckenpaugh, Jason. "Mapping agency blocks access,
postpones outsourcing pact." Government Executive Magazine. Sept. 25,
11. Corn, David. "Their Spy in the Sky." The Nation. Nov. 26,
12. "Statement on Request to Withdraw USGS Source Water CD-ROM from
Depository Libraries." Administrative Notes 23, no. 3, Feb. 15, 2002.
13. Atkins, Cathy. "State Open Records Laws: Legislative Activities
in 2003." Terrorism Preparedness 1, no. 4, July/Aug. 2003.
14. Lais, Sammi. "EPA Views Web Posting of Data in a New Light." Government
Computer News. Aug. 26, 2002. http://www.gcn.com/21_25/inbrief/19769-1.html
15. Blumenfeld, Laura. "Dissertation Could be Security Threat." The
Washington Post. Technology Section.
(July 8, 2003): p. A1.
16. CBS News. 60 Minutes. "U.S. Plants: Open
to Terrorists." Nov.
17, 2003. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/
17. National States Geographic Information Council. "Data Access Decision
Tree for Critical Infrastructure Data, version 7." July 8, 2002.
Linda Zellmer is the head of the Geology Library at
Indiana University. She has held positions dealing with
geology and maps at the University of Wyoming (where
she took two semesters of coursework in geographic information
systems) and Arizona State University. She represents
the Geoscience Information Society on the Cartographic
Users Advisory Council. She is serving on the Homeland
Security Working Group of the FGDC, which is working
to develop guidelines for access to spatial data. Her
e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.