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Connecticut Court: State Can Pass Along License Fees for FOIA Requested Data

Friday, February 1st 2013
By Adena Schutzberg

The case, prompted by well-known data activist Stephen Witaker, was over access to Pictometry data which he requested under the state freedom of information law.

The state Supreme Court sided with state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Tuesday in a 5-year-old records dispute, ruling that it has the authority to charge $25 every time a member of the public requests a printout of an aerial photo contained in a highly sophisticated taxpayer-funded database.

An earlier ruling from the Superior Court said the said the state should absorb the required licensing fee. Matthew Levine, an assistant attorney general for the state thought the ruling fair.

"I thought the Supreme Court did a nice balance here between the public's right to have access to this information and the right to companies to have their proprietary stuff protected."

Whitaker and others feel the decision limits access to public data. He argued that it's not fair that the state use imagery to determine the height of a fence or size of property and citizens not have access to it to dispute claims or taxes. 

The data in question is a  of $793,000 database created by Pictometry and used under license to that company. Whitaker's original request was denied because of the license. The state Freedom of Information Commission determined the imagery (and perhaps the software) and metadata were trade secrets and proprietary material belonging to Pictometry. This week's ruling argues absorbing the fees for using such data would be a hardship for the state. If Whitaker wanted the entire Pictometry database the state would have to pay $9 million.


I wonder if the issue here is not so much about FOIA but about the selection of a vendor with such a restrictive data use license. Pictometry merged with EagleView, an automated 3D measurement technologies and analysis solutions provider, earlier this month (press release).


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