Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Spatial Information Science and Engineering


Harlan J. Onsrud

Second Committee Member

M. Kate Beard-Tisdale

Third Committee Member

Max J. Egenhofer


Data availability is a key issue affecting society's social well being. Information technology has increased the availability of and improved access to data. The academic community that uses spatial data is one of the groups that has taken advantage of fast and inexpensive opportunities to share data and knowledge in a relatively unfettered fashion across digital networks. However, pressure by the private sector to increase protection for databases through database legislation, self-help measures (contracts, licensing and technological methods for limiting access) and movement by some local governments towards revenue generation from sales of data are decreasing or threatening to decrease access to information for academics. This research explores current and potential access to information principles having substantial potential for promoting sharing and openness for scientific exploration. Current laws and policies on intellectual property and access to information are explored in the context of such principles. A literature study and a questionnaire are used to investigate the access to data environment of academia using geographic data in accomplishing academic research. Current problems are assessed, and legal constraints are analyzed. Whether or not adhered to, an assessment is made in each project of the productivity of scientists compared to the actual principles followed and the extent and nature of problems encountered. Productivity is assessed on a dataset level. It is measured in terms of satisfaction by scientists with the principles imposed upon scientists for accessing that dataset, the extent of problems encountered by scientists when confronted with the specific access principles, and the accomplishment of research goals under the constraints imposed. This research has resulted in new knowledge that should help inform policy makers and scientists themselves of the means by which a satisfactory environment for accessing data might be maintained or accomplished. Ultimately the results are used to supply evidence of academic community practices that would be supported or not supported by a range of legal options for protecting databases, some of which are currently before Congress.