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Geospatial Commission sets ABC for ethical use of location data

23/06/22

Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Geospatial Commission has proposed an ‘ABC’ of values – on accountability, bias and clarity – for the ethical use of location data.

It has taken the position in a new policy paper, Building public confidence in the use of location data, saying they can provide building blocks for the public and private sectors.

The paper says that adhering to these values will ensure that location data can be used, shared and re-used with confidence and public support.

Accountability involves governing location data responsibly, with the appropriate oversight and security. This includes steps such as providing individuals with ways to communicate specific data they are happy to provide and how they want it collected, along with a platform to review this over a period of time.

Different types of bias have to be considered and mitigated, using guidance such as the government’s Data Ethics Framework and through impact assessments of projects.

Clarity needs organisations to make efforts to be clear on how the data will be used and the relevant rights of individuals. This can involve communicating not everything but the right things to help people make informed decisions on the use of their data. They can also be proactive in informing the public about how their location data is collected, stored and used, and the benefits it provides.

Rich and powerful insights

Edwina Dunn, independent commissioner of the Geospatial Commission and interim chair of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, said: “Location data is a rich and powerful source of insight and input to AI and data led decision making. As geographic data fuels innovation and improves our everyday lives, we must not forget that these significant economic, social and environmental benefits are only made possible with the trust and understanding of the UK public.

“The Geospatial Commission’s policy paper is the culmination of months of engagement across the geospatial landscape. It proposes three shared values - accountability, bias and clarity - all designed to optimise the benefits but safeguard public trust and confidence.”

The organisation has also published its annual plan, highlighting priorities of the continuing roll out of the National Underground Assets Register, publishing guidance on making an effective case for investment in location data during the summer, and piloting public sector access to commercial satellite data.

The latter point is aimed at understanding whether collective access would overcome the barriers to the public sector using Earth observation data more widely. It has involved research, co-funded with the Satellite Applications Catapult, that identified barriers include varying levels of technical understanding, the need for a robust case for investment and the high cost of some marketing offerings.

The commission will follow this up by working with public sector partners on piloting access to EO-derived high resolution data through collective procurement.

Other significant plans include working with Ordnance Survey on a 10-year programme of geospatial virtual work experience, helping key public sector teams deploy geospatial data scientists, publishing insights from the local authority electric vehicle data discovery project later this year, and exploring the potential for a Northern Ireland version of the Public Sector Geospatial Agreement.

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