PUBLIC INFORMATION -- Neither the federal Homeland Security Act nor any other law exempts Santa Clara Countys geographic information system basemap from disclosure under the California Public Records Act, the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District has ruled. As reported in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles,
The California First Amendment Coalitiona self-described public interest organization advocating for government transparency and accountabilityrequested a copy of the countys geographic information system basemap, a computer-generated mapping system which enables users to simultaneously view maps graphically and display additional data about various features shown on the maps, including parcel divisions, streets, assessor parcel information, jurisdictional boundaries, aerial photographs, and buildings.
After the county denied its request, the coalition filed a petition for writ of mandate.
Kleinberg found that the county had sold the basemap to 18 different entities, 15 of which were government entities, for a significant fee and required the recipients to enter into mutual non-disclosure agreements.
He rejected the countys claim that the basemap was exempt from the Public Records Act, and ordered the county to provide the collation with the basemap at the countys direct cost.
The county then sought writ relief, contending that the Critical Infrastructure Information Act and its accompanying regulations preempted the Public Records Act, and that under those superseding federal provisions, disclosure of the basemap was prohibited because it has been validated by the Department of Homeland Security as protected critical infrastructure information.
In the alternative, the county argued that even if the Public Records Act was not preempted by federal law, its catchall exemptionwhich allows a government agency to withhold records if it can demonstrate that the public interest served by withholding the records clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosureshielded the basemap from disclosure.
It also posited that even if neither preemption nor the catchall exemption supported nondisclosure, the county should be allowed to demand end user agreements because the basemap was copyrightable, and that it should be allowed to recover more than its direct cost of providing the record.
The Court of Appeal rejected all the county's arguments for exemptionor copyrightbut remanded the case to the trial court to determine allowable copying costs.