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Archive for October, 2010

The Protection of Information Bill has got a lot of people from all sectors of society up in arms. Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, says the bill “seeks to punish not lies or incorrect information about what our government is doing in our name, but rather truthful information based on official documents” (The Star, 2 September 2010). And the SA Association of Political Studies argues that the bill will handicap academic research by unreasonably “placing the onus on researchers and students to judge the security status of government documents” (The Star, 15 September 2010).

As Makgoba argues in his article, no one contests the need for government to keep secret strictly defined categories of information which could undermine national security if released to the general public. He even points out that the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000 already provides protection for this kind of sensitive information.

Concerns about the Protection of Information Bill in turn lead to questions about the impact this bill, if enacted, is likely to have on South Africa’s Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) which is struggling to get established. Efforts to construct our SDI are supported by the Spatial Data Infrastructure Act of 2003 which aims amongst other things to:

• Promote the use and sharing of spatial information in support of spatial planning, socio-economic development and related activities

• Create an environment which facilitates co-ordination and co-operation among all stakeholders regarding access to spatial information

• Promote universal access to such information

However, despite this act having been in place since 2003, there are many instances of government departments being unwilling to share their spatial data with other governmental structures. This goes against the intention of the SDI Act which was put in place to prevent the hoarding of spatial data which results in wasteful expenditure and efforts as government departments acquire and maintain duplicate datasets and systems. With some government personnel already wary of sharing spatial data, the enacting of the Protection of Information Bill is very likely to hinder any endeavours that seek to promote the sharing of spatial data.

This would be a great pity, particularly as in recent years we have seen the results of a broad funding consortium consisting of Stats SA, the Departments of Science and Technology, Agriculture, Water Affairs and Forestry, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Provincial and Local Government, Defence, the Demarcation Board, the Development Bank of South Africa, the Independent Electoral Commission and Eskom  collaborating to generate the SPOT 5 national 2,5 m orthorectified mosaic of South Africa.  This national asset is freely available to all government and academic end-users empowering them in their endeavours to make our country a better place for all.

Attempts by government to stop the sharing of data are not in the national interest. As anyone who works in the geospatial sector knows, knowledge is power and proposals to limit this flow of information can only lead to less transparency and even less accountability.

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