Geo Week News

May 2, 2012

CLICK Bulletin Board to shutter, May 9

Lidar data will remain online, however

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Members of the USGS-hosted CLICK Bulletin Board, which provides an online forum for questions and answers about lidar data acquisition and utilization, received a somewhat cryptic email yesterday: “We regret to inform you that the CLICK Bulletin Board will be disabled due to Department of Interior security mandates until further notice.

“Access to the bulletin board will be disabled beginning on May 9th, 2012.

“We apologize for any inconvenience but are working to resolve the issue.

“The CLICK Team”

Security mandates? Is lidar data now considered an interest of national homeland security?

No. Not exactly. First of all, CLICK stands for the Center for Lidar Information Coordination and Knowledge, and the free lidar data and ability to view that data online will not be affected in any way, said Wayne Miller, long-term archive project manager with the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center here in Sioux Falls, which runs CLICK for the USGS.

“The user community will never lose access to the data,” Miller said. In fact, “We’re hoping we can be more responsive and get the data out there quicker in the future.”

It’s only the Bulletin Board, where users could post questions and hope for answers or post articles for discussion, that will be shuttered on May 9.

So, what’s this about security?

Well, the USGS falls under the Department of the Interior, and the DoI IT team “is very sensitive to us having personal information on systems that are open to the public,” Miller said, both personal information about USGS employees and personal information supplied by users of the Bulletin Board. Essentially, the DoI doesn’t want to be responsible if you let someone on the Bulletin Board know how to contact you and then that information is stolen from the board and used for some malicious intent.

The matter arose when Miller and his team started to convert the CLICK web site to another platform and DoI staff noticed there was personal information on the Bulletin Board. “They’re giving us guidance,” said Miller, “that we can move CLICK and open it back up, except for the Bulletin Board. Until we can fix that so that it doesn’t contain personal information, we either have to make sure that we keep it shut down, or they’ll shut our whole system down.”

What Miller is hoping to do, and hasn’t figure out yet, is to make all of the information that’s been gathered on the Bulletin Board available in some way, but close off the chance for personal information to be posted and exchanged. “It will be more like a library,” he said.

And there is a wealth of information there, gathered since Jason Stoker began CLICK back in 2006. “We started it,” Stoker said, “because there really wasn’t a place to go and ask questions back then … So we just put the Bulletin Board together to have a communal place to throw questions out there and hopefully someone would have an answer.”

There are just under 2,000 registered members of the Bulletin Board, and thousands of others who peruse the forums as guests, but never chose to post or sign up for a membership. Some 8,666 posts have been made in total, many pointing to useful articles or other pieces of information.

Nor is this the first time the Bulletin Board and CLICK as a whole have been in peril. Last fall, a message went out to all registered users that, “On October 1st 2011, CLICK will be ceasing all of our operations except for off-line archiving of lidar point cloud data provided to us.  All other functions of CLICK- the bulletin board, data viewer and download, links to other web sites and presentations, and our Twitter feed will be shut down.”

And then, an angel swooped in, and users got this message the very next day: “We are pleased to announce that we have secured funding to keep CLICK up and running until January 1, 2012. At that point in time we hope to have an approved comprehensive plan to maintain and improve upon this kind of lidar coordination, information and data provision as a fully operational program.”

Clearly, someone saw CLICK and the Bulletin Board as valuable.

What does the future hold? “It’s a juggling act,” Miller said, “and to be honest with you, I don’t necessarily have the answers right now … You’ll see other announcements coming out on CLICK, and we’ll be waiting for feedback from the community, and hopefully we can make the transition in a way that won’t deprive the community of the information that they need, but stays within the rules and regulations we’re required to follow.”

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