GPSFileDepot Forums

General Category => General Discussion => Topic started by: jbensman on August 11, 2011, 10:04:52 AM

Title: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: jbensman on August 11, 2011, 10:04:52 AM
Most agencies are happy to give me trail data for My Trails.  They recognize it is a public benifit for the public to be able to see where the trails are located on thier GPS.  Even the National Park Service is normally happy to provide me data and they have lots of great data on the Internet.

A couple of years ago I attended a public meeting the NPS was having on the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.  They told me they had GPSed their trails.  So I emailed them telling them what Iwanted the data for and asking for it.  After several months I got them to respond and they refused to give me the data. 

So I filed a Freedom of Informaiton Act Request for the data.  They told me it would take them 40 hours to find the data and I would have to pay about $1,400 for the trail files.  I told them it should only take 15 minutes to get the data and the Forest Service has sent me data while I was still on the phone asking for it.  I also asked for a public interest fee waiver.  I gave them a link to My Trails and pointed out thousands have downloaded my maps. 

In 2007 Congress amended FOIA to not allow them to charge search fees if they do not rule on the request within 20 days.  After 20 days, I pointed out they can no longer change me search fees since they missed the deadline.  They refused and I filed an appeal. 

8 months latter they ruled on my appeal.  First in spite of my link to this site, they basically claimed I was lying about making the maps and thousands of people downloading them and denied my fee wavier.  They also ruled thier 2002 regulations trumped the 2007 Amendments to FOIA.  In other words, they made the absurd argument that Congress cannot overturn thier requlations.

So a friend of mine filed a pro bono lawsuit.  The judge ruled in my favor today.  So the NPS has spent 10s of thousands of dollars to avoid letting citizens see on their GPS where the trails their tax dollars paid for are located! 
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: babj615 on August 11, 2011, 11:06:55 AM
Your Government, at work, for you, their loyal subjects.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: eaparks on August 11, 2011, 11:40:31 AM
Great to hear that the ruling was in your favor.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Seldom on August 11, 2011, 12:01:11 PM
Good to hear.  If GM doesn't come out with a geodatabase reader sometime soon, I may just have to use that approach on the CA BLM.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Boyd on August 13, 2011, 04:05:29 PM
Supposed to be coming in version 13...

http://www.globalmapperforum.com/forums/technical-support/5655-opening-geodatabase-files-gdb-any-way-open-convert-opening-gm11-2.html

Quote
07-01-2011 01:02 AM
global_mapper

Administrator

That is on the top of the priority list for v13 now that the API is released. I will probably start working on it in a week or two.

Thanks,

Mike
Global Mapper Support
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Seldom on August 13, 2011, 05:41:13 PM
Keep your eyes peeled for a Beta in the next week or so.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: -Oz- on August 14, 2011, 06:52:28 AM
This is great news; ridiculous amount of work required to make it happen.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: MichaelJ07 on September 29, 2011, 02:15:30 AM
Wow!  Thanks for your work and your efforts on all our behalves.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: jbensman on September 29, 2011, 01:57:49 PM
I got the data today.  It looks like the NPS lied about how long it would have taken them to sort out the data I asked for.  IMHO, any copetent GIS person could have given me the data I asked for in less than an hour.  They were claiming they coulld not tell a file name like alley_sp_tr was a shapefile of the Alley Spring Trail.  It is just appalling what they went to too stop me from helping citizens better enjoy thier National Park!  I should have a new version of My Trails with the new data in a day or two. 
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: n2stitch on September 30, 2011, 07:02:37 PM
Way to go!
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: MartinAS on October 02, 2011, 03:55:21 PM
Hi

New to the site and glad to see someone win when tilting against entrenched forces with the wrong attitude.

Congratulations

Martin

Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: jangeo67 on October 03, 2011, 04:51:27 AM
congrad's. thanks for all your excellent maps.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: rayborbon on October 16, 2011, 09:01:12 AM
Well done. It's strange that the NPS would treat their trail information which was obtained using public employees on public land and using public money as if it is a secret or commodity. I can't believe the government these days.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Indrid Cold on October 16, 2011, 11:47:33 AM
With the state of the economy,  I'll be surprised if they don't change the laws and charge for any data like much of the world does.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Boyd on October 16, 2011, 12:03:15 PM
Sadly, I think you're probably right. Generally speaking, we're very fortunate in the US to have so much free GIS data available - people in other countries have expressed envy in fact. But those servers and staff cost money, and at some point the various agencies are bound to take a closer look at their budgets. Tough choices these days. In the meantime, I just keep downloading everything I can find while it's still free.  :)
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Indrid Cold on October 27, 2011, 10:58:44 AM
Sadly, I think you're probably right. Generally speaking, we're very fortunate in the US to have so much free GIS data available - people in other countries have expressed envy in fact. But those servers and staff cost money, and at some point the various agencies are bound to take a closer look at their budgets.
Even Google has just stopped it's unlimited free mapping for api users: LINK (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2011/oct/27/google-maps-api-charging)
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Seldom on October 27, 2011, 12:42:03 PM
Sadly, I think you're probably right. Generally speaking, we're very fortunate in the US to have so much free GIS data available - people in other countries have expressed envy in fact. But those servers and staff cost money, and at some point the various agencies are bound to take a closer look at their budgets.
Even Google has just stopped it's unlimited free mapping for api users: LINK (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2011/oct/27/google-maps-api-charging)
Maybe showing my ignorance here, but is the Google limit really about data?  Seems to me it's more about access to their servers, which they have maintenance costs on.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Boyd on October 27, 2011, 12:46:53 PM
I read the part of the FAQ where they said it would keep the service more responsive for smaller sites. I'm sure that's part of it, but I'll bet they're also thinking they just can't afford to give away so much free stuff, and the big users can afford to pay for it. I often think that Google is like a drug dealer offering free samples long enough to get you hooked.  ;)
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: jbensman on October 28, 2011, 08:48:37 AM
Sadly, I think you're probably right. Generally speaking, we're very fortunate in the US to have so much free GIS data available - people in other countries have expressed envy in fact. But those servers and staff cost money, and at some point the various agencies are bound to take a closer look at their budgets.
Even Google has just stopped it's unlimited free mapping for api users: LINK (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2011/oct/27/google-maps-api-charging)

Google is a corporation.  There is a huge differnece in a business's data and government data our taxes paid to create.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Indrid Cold on October 28, 2011, 12:01:16 PM
Google is a corporation.  There is a huge differnece in a business's data and government data our taxes paid to create.
That may be, Google probably isn't in debt to the Chinese and others or reached it debt ceiling and faced at least two shutdowns this year like the Federal Government has.

We have also seen the following from California, and it isn't too much of a stretch to project this to other states or the Federal level:
http://forums.gpsfiledepot.com/index.php/topic,2119.msg12451.html#msg12451

It might take some policy changes, but everything changes eventually, even trail paths.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Indrid Cold on October 28, 2011, 01:37:14 PM
It might take some policy changes, but everything changes eventually, even trail paths.
And look a little closer, it may not even take a policy change, just enforcement.
An exception to the FOIA, as listed in Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552:
Quote
(9) geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.

Source  (http://uscode.house.gov/uscode-cgi/fastweb.exe?getdoc+uscview+t05t08+26+1++%28%29%20%20AND%20%28%285%29%20ADJ%20USC%29:CITE%20AND%20%28USC%20w/10%20%28552%29%29:CITE%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20)

Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: jbensman on October 28, 2011, 01:42:25 PM
The cost is in creating the GIS data and our tax dollars paided for that.  They can charge the cost of reproduction if its over a certian amount.  But GIS data can be emailed, posted on the web, or sent on a disc.  So there is not going to be cost of reproduciton.  The NPS's failure to spend less than an hour to give me what I asked for, is going to end up costing 10 of thousands of dollars.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: jbensman on October 28, 2011, 01:53:33 PM
It might take some policy changes, but everything changes eventually, even trail paths.
And look a little closer, it may not even take a policy change, just enforcement.
An exception to the FOIA, as listed in Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552:
Quote
(9) geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.

Source  (http://uscode.house.gov/uscode-cgi/fastweb.exe?getdoc+uscview+t05t08+26+1++%28%29%20%20AND%20%28%285%29%20ADJ%20USC%29:CITE%20AND%20%28USC%20w/10%20%28552%29%29:CITE%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20)

Excemption 9 deals with stuff like info on oil wells.  Its got nothing to do with GIS-courts have ruled GIS data must be disclosed.  Here is what the Department of Justuce FOIA Handbook explains:

EXEMPTION 9

Exemption 9 of the FOIA covers "geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells."  While this exemption is very rarely invoked or interpreted, one court has held that it applies only to "well information of a technical or scientific nature."  Only two other decisions have mentioned Exemption 9; however, neither case discussed its scope or application.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: Indrid Cold on October 28, 2011, 02:30:31 PM
Excemption 9 deals with stuff like info on oil wells.  Its got nothing to do with GIS-courts have ruled GIS data must be disclosed.
Looks like you may have a point on that it applies to wells.

My concern is how will the Government have the ability to disclose anything if the dollar crashes and the US goes bankrupt? A simple look back at the history of the world shows many example of societies crashing and failing after becoming to big for their britches. Seeing the US spends much more than it takes in as taxes, well it looks a lot like a collage student with a credit card.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: jbensman on October 28, 2011, 02:35:44 PM
I'd say you are straying too far from what this disucussion is about.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: JKINNNY on December 03, 2011, 01:09:26 PM
If a US government agency is giving you the run around, contact your congressional representative, or senator. Be polite, spell it out (be specific) what you're trying to obtain, and what agency/person(s) are stone walling you. Keep records. Names, dates, times of phone calls, emails, or snail mail. Provide copies if practical. The more ammo you have to leverage your case, the better.  It might seem trivial, but they are an elected representative and should be able to help. You more than likely will be contacted by one of their staff, but sometimes that's all it takes is a phone call by a staff member to the agency in question to get the ball rolling and a satisfactory answer on your behalf.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: jbensman on December 03, 2011, 02:30:45 PM
I would agree sometimes that would help.  But in some case, such as this, suing is the only thing that will work.  Even after the suit was filed and the Department of Justice attorneys got involved (and if they were confident attorneys they would have known the NPS basis for refusing to give me the files for free was frivilious) instead of telling the NPS they need to cut thier loses and settle by agreeing to give me the files, they doubled down.  So my attorrney had to brief the case and fly to DC for a hearing.  The NPS's basis to charge me was so frivilious they could not even come up with any argument against one of the many reasons why they cannot charge me.  At the hearing, the DOJ and NPS attornies admitted to the judge they had no defense against one of the reasons why they could not change me.  When you win a FOIA lawsuit and the agency had no reasonable basis for thier decision, they have to pay your attorney.  The NPS agreed to pay my attorney $37,000 in attorney fees and expenses!  Hopefully that will teach them a lesson and in the future they will respect the law.  We will see.  I filed a petition for rulemaking asking the NPS to change thier regulaitons to comply with the Court's ruling and the 2007 Amendments to FOIA.  We will see if they have leard thier lesson and agree to change the regulaitons or if they will pay my attorney again to sue them to force the NPS to change thier regulations to comply with Federal law.  When you consider all the government attoreny time and all the NPS employee time, I bet over $100,000 was spent to try to avoid spending 15 minutes to give me some files so I could help citizens better enjoy thier National Parks!  I think there should be some people fired over this.
Title: Re: Just won my FOIA lawsuit against the NPS!
Post by: EagleBoy on December 03, 2011, 04:08:13 PM
You rock!  And your lawyer deserved every penny.  He should have gone for fees at client-solicitor rates.  Sounds like they gave party-party rates.  I consult to governments all the time and abso-frigging-lutely astounds me what "civil" servants try to get away with.

Again - AWESOME JOB!!!  Makes my day.  :)  Thanks for all your (and your attorney) hard work.