FGDC Policy on Access to Public Information and the Protection of Personal Information Privacy in Federal Geospatial Databases
Adopted by the Federal Geographic Data Committee in April 1998
This policy articulates the Federal Geographic Data Committee’s (FGDC) endorsement of public access
to information and appropriate protections for the privacy and confidentiality of personal information in
federal geospatial databases. The policy supports the goals of the FGDC, and is in conformance with
law, related federal policies, and well-regarded fair information and privacy practices and principles.
This policy is needed because federal geospatial databases are being built with increasing levels of
geographic specificity and often include personal information. For example, individual’s names are often
linked to property addresses and street maps; cadastral records that identify land parcels and land owner
names may be linked to high resolution imagery. Privacy concerns are raised because databases may
contain personal information prohibited from disclosure by law. Privacy in this context means
“information privacy,” an individual’s claim to control the terms under which personal
information—information identifiable to an individual—is acquired, disclosed, and used.1
This policy applies to all federal 2 geospatial databases from which personal information is retrieved. A
federal geospatial database may be considered a system of records subject to the Privacy Act of 1974. A
systems of records is defined as: “A group of any records under the control of any agency from which
information is retrieved by the name of the individual or by some identifying number, symbol, or other
identifying particular assigned to the individual.” Systems of records that meet this definition, but have
not been officially identified as Privacy Act systems of records, are also under the purview of the Privacy
-Agencies should disclose geospatial data and information on request unless
exempted under the Freedom of Information Act. Agencies should work to improve
access to geospatial databases.3
-Agencies should continue to ensure public access to agency records and information. 4
-Agencies should work to achieve a balance between maximizing the usefulness of
geospatial data and information and minimizing the cost to the government and the
1Privacy Working Group, U.S. Information Infrastructure Task Force, Privacy and the National Information Infrastructure:
Principles for Providing and Using Personal Information, October 1995.
2Federal geospatial databases in this context means all geospatial databases collected or produced, either directly or
indirectly, (e.g. through grants, partnerships, or contracts with other entities) by Federal agencies. Executive Order 12906, Sec. 4(d);
Office of Management and Budget, Circular A-16 Revised, “Coordination of Surveying, Mapping, and Related Spatial Data
Activities,” Sec. 3(a).
3Electronic Freedom of Information Act, Public Law 104-231, 110 Statute 2422, and Office of Management and Budget,
Circular A-130, “Management of Federal Information Resources,” 61 Federal Register 6428, February 20, 1996, Section 7(l).
4Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552.
5Electronic Freedom of Information Act, Public Law 104-231, 110 Statute 2422, and Office of Management and Budget,
Circular A-130, “Management of Federal Information Resources,” 61 Federal Register 6428, February 20, 1996. Section 8a(5i).