Our recent disagreements with the County Recorder bring up more questions about public resources in general and who controls them. I suppose that when we elect a representative, we charge them with ensuring our safety and protecting our rights, and in an era of economic uncertainty and fear, it is no wonder that new laws are passed, and that existing laws are reinterpreted that will limit access and degrade available information. Information is a powerful tool, but the result of attempts to hoard knowledge or to legislate the internet is that the information becomes a commodity, available to anyone for a price. As with physical resources, making an item more difficult to get, ups its value. This is contrary to the spirit of democracy, especially if the data has been accumulated with public funds in the first place.
This incident with our Recorder is similar to the information obtainable from GPS receivers. From its inception the GPS signals have been intentionally degraded by the military in order to make precise positioning more difficult for civil users. Cheap hand-held units are readily available, but with the military’s “selective availability” switched on, the accuracy achievable is not adequate for many purposes. To overcome this degradation, the surveying community has developed differential positioning. The system we use is expensive and cranky, and after having made the investment in the technology to beat the technology that was built to mask the system that was too good, I need to charge adequate rates to recoup my equipment and repair costs, upping the price for everyone. The clear GPS signal is still available to the military and perhaps to other users with the appropriate clearances. Concerns about terrorists or foreign agents using the signals to endanger the public may be legitimate, but my tendency is to believe that the greater good is served by sharing knowledge as it becomes available, and by removing barriers rather than by constructing them.