GISEthics.org | Case Studies

Students develop ethical awareness and moral reasoning skills through methodical analysis and discussion of case studies. The main contribution of the GIS Professional Ethics Project is the following collection of case studies that pose a range of ethical challenges faced by geospatial professionals. Related educator resources are available on request for most cases.

To learn more about the case method, including a "Seven Step Guide for Ethical Decision Making," see Davis, Michael (1999) The Case Method. Ethics and the University. New York: Routledge. For an example of ethical decision making using the "Mapping Muslim Neighbors" case, see DiBiase, David, Chris Goranson, Francis Harvey and Dawn Wright (2009). The GIS Professional Ethics Project: Practical Ethics Education for GIS Pros. Proceedings of the 24th International Cartography Conference. Santiago, Chile, 15-21 November. Also in Unwin, D., K. Foote, N. Tate and D. DiBiase, Eds. (2011). Teaching Geographic Information Science and Technology in Higher Education. London: Wiley and Sons.

For more information about GIS ethics, see DiBiase, D. (2017). Professional and Practical Ethics of GIS&T. The Geographic Information Science & Technology Body of Knowledge (2nd Quarter 2017 Edition), John P. Wilson (ed.). doi: 10.22224/gistbok/2017.2.2 

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 0734888, 0734903, and 0734824. Visit About this Project for the project description.


mapping_muslim_neighbors_case.pdf A police department's plan to map potential terrorist enclaves brings charges of racial profiling.
caribou_routes_case.pdf A GIS analyst is asked to exclude pertinent data from maps prepared for a public hearing.
mobile_phone_tracking_case.pdf Researchers track mobile phone users' movements to derive predictive models of human mobility. Updated 4 December 2019
software_emergency_case.pdf Too few software licenses are available in the aftermath of a tsunami.
e911_conflict_case.pdf A municipal GIS manager troubled by what appears to be a conflict of interest considers filing a formal ethics complaint.
collateral_damage_case.pdf A geospatial intelligence analyst predicts the civilian casualties in likely to be caused by a pre-emptive missile attack.
satellite_contract_case.pdf A sales representative is expected to withhold information that could affect availability of a data product.
fire_mapping_case.pdf A member of the press asks a government employee to leak the results of a GIS analysis about a controversial wild land fire.
llrw_siting_map_case.pdf Map masks potentially suitable sites for low-level radioactive waste storage facility.
submarine_crash_case.pdf A nuclear submarine's crash into an uncharted seamount raises ethical issues for Navy training personnel.
data_access_case.pdf A governmental agency's need to recoup user fees conflicts with a public records law.
alpha_software_case.pdf Entrepreneurial GIS programmer is tempted to use a friend's code to win a lucrative contract.
bear_baiting_case.pdf Should locations of controversial hunting stations be mapped?
environmental_justice_case.pdf GIS programmer ponders a contract for a web map overlays toxic industrial sites and at-risk communities.
tidal_wetland_mapping_case.pdf A scope of work statement and established mapping procedures prevent a GIS analyst from adding wetlands to a conservation database.
privacy_and_planning_case.pdf A GIS professional considers filing an ethics complaint about lax protection of the confidentiality of a sensitive database.
ethical_minefield_case.pdf Should a surveying and mapping crew chief pay a bribe to acquire data needed to conduct field reconnaissannce safely?

Codes of Ethics

 http://www.gisci.org/Ethics_and_Conduct/CodeOfEthics_PR.pdf GIS Code of Ethics
 https://www.gisci.org/Ethics/RulesofConduct.aspx GIS Certification Institute Rules of Conduct
https://www.asprs.org/organization/code-of-ethics-of-the-american-society-for-photogrammetry-and-remote-sensing.html American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing Code of Ethics