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Spatial Informatics Faculty - Harlan Onsrud

Contact Information

Harlan Onsrud

(207) 581-2175


University of Maine
5711 Boardman Hall
Orono, ME 04469


  • Acquired licenses: attorney, professional engineer, land surveyor
  • M.S. University of Wisconsin, College of Engineering
  • J. D. University of Wisconsin Law School

Research interests

Professor Onsrud’s research focuses on the analysis of legal, ethical, and institutional issues affecting the creation and use of digital databases and the assessment of the social impacts of spatial technologies. He is past president and past Executive Director of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI), past-president of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), and past Chair of the U.S. National Committee (USNC) on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) of the National Research Council. He has participated in and chaired U.S. National Research Council studies addressing various spatial data and service issues and is a lifetime National Associate of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences. He is a former chair of the Socieconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) Working Group, a Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) in the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) located at CIESIN, Columbia University.  Current and past research projects have been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Institute of Museums and Libraries, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Federal Geographic Data Committee, and the U.S. Department of Education. He teaches currently courses in Information Systems Law, Responsible Conduct of Research, Computers, Ethics & Society and has a teaching interest in Cadastral and Land Information Systems. He has been listed by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board for Fulbright Specialist teaching assignments in Law and has completed such assignments at the University of Melbourne and the University of Muenster.  A unifying theme in much of his teaching and research involves the concept of “ethics driven design.” He is graduate coordinator for the MS and PhD programs in Spatial Information Science and Engineering and the MS Information Systems program.

Publications (sampling)

  • Campbell, James and Harlan Onsrud, 2014, Desirable Characteristics of an Online Data Commons for Locally Generated Spatial Data from Disparate Contributors, URISA Journal , Volume 26 Number 1: 35-43
  • Taro Ubukawa, Alex De Sherbinin, Harlan Onsrud, Andy Nelson, Karen Payne, Olivier Cottray, and Mikel Maron, 2014, A Review of Roads Data Development Methodologies, Data Science Journal, Vol. 13: 45-66,
  • Onsrud, Harlan and Abbas Rajabifard, Eds, Spatial Enablement in Support of Economic Development and Poverty Reduction (GSDI Association Press) 2013,
  • Onsrud, H.J., 2010, Legal Interoperability in Support of Spatially Enabling Society (PDF). In Abbas Rajabifard, Abbas, Joep Crompvoets, Mohsen Kalantari, and Bas Kok, Spatially Enabling Society: Research, Emerging Trends and Critical Assessment, 163-172.
  • Onsrud, H.J., James Campbell and Bastiaan van Loenen, 2010, Towards Voluntary Interoperable Open Access Licenses for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), International Journal of Spatial Data Infrastructure Research,
  • Onsrud, Harlan, Ubiquitous Tracking: Supporting Privacy and Free Speech. In Taking Stock of Technology: Reflections on Law, Technology and Society, Centre for Law, Technology and Society Launch, University of Ottawa, March 5, 2010 (talk/proceedings)
  • Onsrud, Harlan J., 2009, Liability for Spatial Data Quality (PDF), In Devillers, Rodolphe and Helen Goodchild (Eds.), Spatial Data Quality: From Process to Decisions (New York: CRC Press) 187-196
  • Onsrud, Harlan J., Implementing Geographic Information Technologies Ethically (PDF), ArcNews, Fall 2008, Vol 30 Number 3, pp. 1-8. (pdf)
  • Onsrud, Harlan J. and James Campbell, 2007, Big Opportunities in Access to “Small Science” Data (PDF), CODATA Data Science Journal,
  • Onsrud, H., Editor, 2007, Research and Theory in Advancing Spatial Data Infrastructure Concepts (Redlands CA: ESRI Press) Book at
  • Onsrud, Harlan, Gilberto Camara, James Campbell, and Narindi Sharad Chakravarthy. “Public Commons of Geographic Data: Research and Development Challenges.” In Geographic Information Science, edited by Max J. Egenhofer, Christian Freska, and Harvey J. Miller, 223–38. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2004. Lecture Notes in Computer Science #3234 [postprint (PDF)]
  • Onsrud, H., B. Poore, R. Rugg, R. Taupier, and L. Wiggins, 2004, The Future of the Spatial Information Infrastructure. In McMaster, Robert B. and E. Lynn Usery, (Eds.), A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science (Boca Raton: CRC Press), 225-255 [preprint (PDF)]
  • Onsrud, H.J., 2004, Geographic Information Legal Issues, Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems(EOLSS), Developed under the auspices of the UNESCO, EOLSS Publishers, Oxford, UK, [preprint]
  • Committee on Licensing Geographic Data and Services, 2004, Licensing Geographic Data and Services (Washington D.C: National Academies Press)
  • Onsrud, Harlan, 2004, Overview of Open-Access and Public-Commons Initiatives in the United States, In Esanu, J. and P. Uhlir, (Eds.), Open Access and the Public Domain in Digital Data and Information for Science: Proceedings of an International Symposium (Washington D.C: National Academies Press), 114-118
  • Van Loenen B., Onsrud H.J., 2004, Geographic Data for Academic Research: Assessing Access Policies. Cartography and Geographic Information Science 31(1): 3-17. [preprint (PDF)]
  • Onsrud, H.J., 2003, Access to Geographic Information: Openness versus Security. In Cutter, S., D. Richardson and T. Wilbanks (Eds.), Geographic Dimensions of Terrorism (Routledge). 207-213 [preprint (PDF)]
  • Onsrud, Harlan, 2003, Emerging Models for Maintaining Scientific Data in the Public Domain, In Esanu, J. and P. Uhlir, (Eds.), The Role of Scientific and Technical Data and Information in the Public Domain (Washington D.C: National Academies Press), 180-186
  • Maurer, S., P.B. Hugenholtz, and H. Onsrud, 2001, Europe’s Database Experiment, Science, 294: 789-790, 26 Oct 2001.
  • Onsrud, H.J., 2000, Loss of Legal Access to Geographic Information: Measuring Losses or Developing Responses? In Janelle, D.G. and D. Hodge (Eds.), Information, Place and Cyberspace: Issues in Accessibility (Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag) [preprint (PDF)]

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