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Privacy and Public Access to GIS Data for National

Development: Issues Influencing the Use of GIS in Nigeria

Rowland adewumi


Increased computer literacy in d evelopin g countries and the realisation of the importance
of sp atial information has make the growth of GIS so great in its app lication to solving
GIS related p roblem in this countries. However, issues of p rivacy and p ublic access to
data have limits GIS commercial develop ment and potential. Serious legal considerations
and application p rocedures must now be kep t in mind during the creation, p rop osal,
design and implementation of large p ublic and p rivate GIS p rojects. The issues and
policies determinin g p ublic access to data will either p romote or limit the develop ment of
GIS technology and its app lications to the national economy . GIS is all about data, as
data encomp ass 75% of all GIS p rojects, and data contributes immeasurable to the
planning of any national develop ment. Higher satellite spatial resolution images will
increase GIS p roductivity , are the best p roducts sp atial resolution images accessible? Is
United Kingdom and America’s intelligence in p ossessing of high er satellite imagery
resolution like 0.05 metre resolution imagery ? Will p ublic access to this data be made
possible? What security imp lications are under covered ? Will its eventual
commercialisation inv ade p eople’s p rivacy ? What of a secret GPS bu g implanted without
a court order by the state security services on a susp ect? Will sp atial an aly sis and GIS
gen erated data be accep ted as court evidence in develop ing countries? What encry p tion
system does how government possesses? These are some of the issues that need extensive
elaboration as relates to GIS in the p resent and its future in Nigeria.


The govern ment, educational institutions, individuals and the private sector need to
communicate and develop better services usin g the p ower that lies within the GIS
technology . The reliance on information and data analy sis cap ability of GIS are
immeasurable and beneficial in term of its sp atial and modellin g contents. Contrary to
this, many government agencies, institutions still exercise authority and access restriction
to records, data and information and this have negatively influence the use of GIS in
sp atial development of the country. In Nigeria, while GIS is accep ted as a new
technological innovation and adv ancement, dup lication of effort in data capture is
common at all level, which has called for practitioners of GIS to realise that laws and
policy coordination of effort is necessary . Due to lack of a framework, p ublic access to
data is still a mirage and akin to a “camel passing through a n eed”. The lack of these
institutional sp atial data p olicies has driv en many organisations into creating their own
datasets. Certainly , p ublic access to this datasets will be limited, because it is p roduced at
individual’s expense. If one needs similar data, y ou just have to create a new dataset. It is
my op inion that the way forward for many African countries is to resolve all negative and
positive legal issues as relates to this emerging technolo gy of GIS in Africa. How much
public information do p rivate citizens have the right to demand, and can government
agencies recov er costs by selling p ublic data created at their own exp ense? These are few
questions in my op inion that will have to be addressed.

However, in South Africa (Fion a F, 1999), limited law exists to control free p ublic access
to data to control GIS activities, which may have a p otentially negative imp act on the
environment. This assessment of the environment using GIS have been delegated to GIS
consultant to produce and identify areas of environmental sensitivity and to provide
environmental management p arameters for these areas for any p roposed develop ment by
individuals. The legislation also mandate GIS consultants to develop simple GIS viewer
to enable non-GIS specialists to access any information and without any extensive
training and to view the original datasets without having to p urchase additional software
and p rograms. All these are free, and at no cost. A parameter rep ort can also be generated
for selected areas, p rinted or saved for use in other app lication of interest to the user.
Such free and easy p ublic access to data will definitely affect the growth of GIS and
increase p ublic awareness of GIS p ositively. This will move the country further into
research and develop ment, this free access to data will become a p owerful tool in
sustainable use and management of environmental resources. The above South African
examp le is similar to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Records Act of the
US, but only that GIS consultant in South Africa’s case are mandated to p roduce,
manip ulate, and distribute these data at their own expenses.

What are the legal mechanisms in p lace to keep a terrorist group from either obtainin g
public data or purchasin g imagery data for destructive ends? The command link from
satellites to the ground station are alway s encryp ted and authenticated. Encry ption (Clare
P, 2004), is when remote sensed satellite imagery data are en coded so that only receivin g
stations with decryption keys can access and decode the data. Users who did not
contribute to provision costs reasoned this to decreased commercial exp loitation of the
free the data. This further explains why most satellite imagery comp anies won'
t sell data
to defined terrorist nations or violate UN or bilateral trade restrictions. (Clare P, 2004)

In Sep tember 27,2003 Nigeria launch ed her first ever satellite-the Nigeriasat-1. The
signal of Nigeriasat-1 are en cry pted and the code known to selected few to avoid the
public access to the down-linked sign als before the final images are ro lled out. This
allows each DMC (Disaster M onitoring Constellation) countries to also maintain its
dep endence. Desp ite Nigeria’s need for rap id develop ment in GIS related technology , the
Federal Government has entered into agreement with DMC and Reuters-Alertnet to
provide free images in UN declared emergency situations. It was also agreed that five
percent of all images can be given out free of charge on humanitarian ground. (Obiech ina
O, 2003).

Meanwhile, p ublic accesses to this image are not free to Nigeria GIS commun ities. In
January 2004, Zep hyrgold International Ltd. challen ge the Fed eral Government’s
decision and its agreement with the DM C and wants free p ublic access to all image data
gen erated from NigeriaSat-1. Zep hy rgold claims that the satellite was built at the exp ense
of the taxp ay er’s money and due to the fact that it will also rap idly boost research in GIS,
hence it should be free. The government on the other hand, claims the necessity of
recoup ing some of the exp anded money on the p roject might not make it free to the