L3.08: Open Source Data


Open Source GEOINT Data

Any type of lawfully and ethically collected geospatial information from publicly available sources is considered to be open source material. Open source is contrasted with closed source material that is not available to the public. There is an increasing reliance on the open source collection of information.

One of the attractions of open source information is the perception that it is easily collected with no accountability. This can be incorrect, and in some countries the information must be collected for a legitimate purpose. European countries have incorporated the "European Convention on Human Rights" into their legislation. A search that engages Article 8, "private life" issues, must meet the threshold for interference as set out in the Convention. Article 8 protects the private life of individuals against arbitrary interference by public authorities and private organizations such as the media. Article 8 is a qualified right, so in certain circumstances public authorities can interfere with the private and family life to prevent disorder or crime, protect health or morals, or to protect the rights and freedoms of others. However, such interference must be in accordance with the law and necessary to protect national security, public safety, or the well-being of the country.

Cyber can be an important source for open source data. When viewed with an eye to intelligence analysis, social media, and more broadly, cyber transactions between individuals and groups, describe past and current events and help to anticipate future events. These transactions can be aggregated into trends, models and conditions that describe who is involved and where and when an event will be or is happening. While much of the information disseminated in social media is not geographic information per se, such social media transactions contain massive amounts of geographic information in the “from” and “to” communication nodes and possible geographic references in the content. Significantly, such cyber activities are intrinsically self-documenting and provide spatial and temporal information to enable analysts to focus on point events, group behaviors, or larger trends. The result is that cyber activities create a vast amount of useful data about an individual or group in the context of local, regional and global activities. Given the growing impact of the technology and the rich information content, their importance has and will likely continue to grow in value to the intelligence community.

Crowdsourcing GEOINT Data

Crowdsourced geospatial data (CGD) is an emerging trend that is influencing future methods for geospatial data acquisition. CGD involves the participation of untrained individuals with a high degree of interest in geospatial technology. Working collectively, these individuals collect, edit, and produce datasets. Crowdsourced geospatial data production is typically an open, lightly-controlled process with few constraints, specifications, or quality assurance processes. This contrasts with the highly-controlled geospatial data production practices of national mapping agencies and businesses. Adoption of CGD and production methods has been a concern, especially to government organizations, due to quality concerns related to differences in production methods.

After a period of initial skepticism, government agencies are now incorporating CGD. There are three main methods, which are:

  • Adopting non-government crowdsourced data.
  • Using CGD in parallel with authoritative data.
  • Integrated crowdsourcing methods and data.

An important emerging area for hybrid CGD projects is in the area of emergency management aided by volunteers and by CGD. An example is organizations that are fighting Ebola in the three hardest-hit countries—Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia—and who need maps to help aid workers get around the country and do the difficult job of checking village by village for victims of the disease. The UN, Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders have turned to OpenStreetMap (OSM) for their map data. OSM's crowdsourced mapping project brings together mappers on the ground using GPS devices with mapping capabilities.

Try This!

Explore OpenStreetMap (OSM). OSM is a collaborative project to create a free, editable map of the world. Two major driving forces behind the establishment and growth of OSM have been restrictions on use or availability of map information across much of the world, and the advent of inexpensive portable satellite navigation devices.

Created by Steve Coast in the UK in 2004, it was inspired by the success of Wikipedia and the preponderance of proprietary map data in the UK and elsewhere. Since then, it has grown to over 1.6 million registered users, who can collect data using manual survey, GPS devices, aerial photography, and other free sources. This crowdsourced data is then made available under the Open Database License. The OpenStreetMap Foundation, a non-profit organization registered in England, supports the site.

Rather than the map itself, the data generated by the OpenStreetMap project is considered its primary output. This data is then available for use in both traditional applications, like its usage by Craigslist, Geocaching, MapQuest Open, JMP statistical software, and Foursquare to replace Google Maps, and more unusual roles, like replacing default data included with GPS receivers. This data has been favorably compared with proprietary data sources, though data quality varies worldwide.

See the West African Ebola Response. Mapping efforts in support of the relief operation are still ongoing and new contributors are always welcome. Getting involved is simple: go to The HOT Tasking Manager and check out an area to map from one of the ebola-related tasks. Currently tasks are open for Bo, Sierra Leone and Panguma, Sierra Leone.