Last month, a federal agency took the unusual step of notifying the public before removing documents from its website. On November 18, 2004, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) posted a notice in the Federal Register that it will remove its Flight Information Publications (FLIP), Digital Aeronautical Flight Information Files (DAFIF), and related aeronautical safety of navigation digital and hardcopy publications from public sale and distribution. These materials have been published by the NGA since the late 1940s and have always been widely available to the public. Because the removal has not yet taken place, this is an opportunity to file objections to the removal. You can send your comments to Joseph S. Jarvis at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for accepting comments was just extended until June 30, 2005.
NGA listed conflicting purposes for the removal. The documents will be removed for:
- "safeguarding the integrity of Department of Defense (DoD) aeronautical
navigation data currently available on the public Internet;
- preventing unfettered access to air facility data by those intending harm to the United States, its interests or allies;
- upholding terms of bi-lateral geospatial data-sharing agreements;
- avoiding competition with commercial interests; and
- avoiding intellectual property/copyright disputes with foreign agencies that provide host-nation aeronautical data."
If you can buy the aeronautical charts, why keep tax-payers from getting the free access they have always had? If anyone can buy the charts, why will severely restricting free access keep terrorists from getting the information they want? These charts generally do not have the level of detail necessary for terrorists to actually carry out an attack, according to a Rand Corporation report on geospatial information: Mapping the Risks: The Homeland Security Implications of Publicly Available Geospatial Information.
These government documents have been available for free for decades. The distribution of the maps on the web further means that they have already been "well publicized; " you can't unring the bell as far as classification goes. Others may want to comment on whether the agency's concerns over international copyright disputes has any validity.