The following email was sent to Harford County Public School officials. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication:
Mr. Licata, members of the STAC, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board:
Thank you for your response to my request for GIS shape files and data sets. I wish I could say that I understand your rationale for denying my request, but I cannot. I am sure you are well aware of the importance of the information requested and why it was requested in the specified format, but I will reiterate this for the members of the Board. Using a GIS application will allow communities the ability to review the entire plan using the exact same data used by the STAC. Furthermore, it will allow communities the ability to manipulate this data in real-time as it relates to locations on a map. In other words, when I move parcel XX from one proposed district to another, I can assess the direct impact, in terms of number of students by grade. This is a much better solution than trying to adjust numbers on a spreadsheet and guessing the number of students in a particular parcel.
Let me take a moment to address the each of Mr. Licata’s concerns regarding the data requested.
1. “…the information is contained in a proprietary product that was purchased by the school system. Therefore we cannot share that information or data with you.”
This is utter nonsense. Under this logic, information sharing around the globe would come to a grinding halt. Let me put this into perspective. On a daily basis, people create data using the proprietary software suite called Microsoft Office. This data is stored in various Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint file formats. Those files are free to exchange with anyone and everyone, even if they do not own the Microsoft Office Suite. In fact, you do not even need Microsoft Office to open, view and edit these files. Just because the data was created using a proprietary product does not make the data proprietary.
Since there is a limited selection of commercially available GIS applications, I am going to assume that you are using the industry standard ESRI ArcGIS application. That being said, I can find no restriction prohibiting the sharing of GIS shape files and data sets exported from that application. ESRI also provides a collection of free viewers you can download or use on the Internet. More information can be found at http://www.esri.com/products/index.html#free_viewers_panel In addition, several federal government agencies, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture have made GIS shape files and data sets available to the public. GeoData.Gov was created specifically to serve as a portal for the sharing and distribution of GIS data. Even the Harford County Government has made GIS data available in the format requested at http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/GIS/Index.cfm. I am sure you can see the trend. Your argument that you cannot share the requested information on the grounds that it is contained in proprietary product is implausible.
2. “…the data used along with the software application is our student database, which we cannot share publicly because it contains personal identifiable information that we cannot share.”
I do understand the need to protect Personally Identifiable Information (PII). I believe that when I made all three previous requests, I asked that the data be “…redacted, if possible or or summarized by parcel…” Perhaps my request was not very clear. I am not asking for data that includes names or addresses of students. If you cannot simply remove those data items, then please summarize the data by number of students per grade per parcel.
The Maryland Public Information Act states that “SG §10-612(a) provides that, “[a]ll persons are entitled to have access to information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees.” The right is made clear in SG §10-613(a)(1), which states that, “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law, a custodian shall permit a person or governmental unit to inspect any public record at any reasonable time.” Inspection or copying of a public record may be denied only to the extent permitted under the PIA. SG §10-613(a)(2).” The Maryand PIA also states “To satisfy the statutory burden, an entity or official withholding a record must put forth evidence sufficient to justify the decision. In some circumstances, a court may require the agency to file a Vaughn index (named after the Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973)) detailing each record withheld or redacted by author, date, and recipient, stating the particular exemption claimed, and providing enough information about the subject matter to permit the requester and court to test the justification of the withholding. See Blythe v. State, 161 Md. App. 492, 521, 870 A.2d 1246, cert. granted, 388 Md. 97, 879 A.2d 42 (2005).”
Please accept the attached letter as my formal Maryland Public Information Act request for all information pertaining to the proposed elementary redistricting plan. I look forward to your timely response.
Formal Maryland Public Information Act request: