Conn. SpCt rules city must release electronic GIS data
June 18th, 2005 by JTJ

From The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

City must release electronic GIS mapping data

  • Publicly releasing electronically formatted
    government maps has not been shown to pose a public safety risk or
    violate a trade secret, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

June 16, 2005  ·   Electronically
formatted maps, which allow journalists to plot geographically
referenced statistical data in studying the adequacy of government
programs and performance, must be released in electronic form to open
records requesters in Connecticut, the state Supreme Court ruled
unanimously Wednesday.

The maps, created from Geographic Information System data and
showing city landmarks, including the location of “security-sensitive''
sites such as schools, public utilities, and bridges, must be open
because officials in Greenwich, Conn., did not show that their release
will violate a trade secret or threaten public safety, the high court

Greenwich citizen Stephen Whitaker requested electronic access to
the city's GIS maps in December 2001 under the state open records law.

The town refused to give Whitaker electronic access to its GIS
system, arguing that the records qualified for public safety and trade
secret exemptions to the state's public records law. Whitaker sued and
obtained rulings in favor of release from the Connecticut Freedom of
Information Commission in 2002 and the Connecticut Superior Court in
2004. Greenwich appealed to the Connecticut Appellate Court, but the
Supreme Court stepped in and transferred the case onto its own docket
before the intermediate appellate court could rule.

Justice Christine S. Vertefeuille, writing for the court, rejected
the argument that the trade secret exemption could apply to the
electronic GIS maps. All of the information contained in the maps is
available piecemeal from other town departments, so there is nothing
secret about them, she wrote.

Vertefeuille found the town's asserted public safety exemption
equally unconvincing. Although witnesses — among them the Greenwich
police chief — had testified that public safety would be jeopardized
if the GIS data were released, little concrete evidence of that was
presented. “Generalized claims of a possible safety risk” are not
enough to satisfy the government's burden of proof on an exemption
claim, Vertefeuille wrote.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by the
Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and
Editors, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in November urging the high
court to order the GIS data's release. In addition to its legal
arguments, the brief highlighted the issue's relevance to the news
media by compiling stories that would not have been written without
electronic mapping.

Greenwich has 10 days to ask all seven supreme court justices to
reconsider the decision, which was decided by a five-member panel.

(Director, Dep't of Information Technology of the Town of
Greenwich v. Freedom of Information Comm'n; Access Counsel: Clifton A.
Leonhardt, Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission; Hartford,


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