GIS & Land Surveyors Requirements for Licensing

NSGIC's Position

The National States Geographic Information Council believes that every state adopting the NCEES Model Law should also adopt the Model Rules document to provide a thorough understanding of the respective roles of GIS professionals and licensed land surveyors and to make the appropriate distinctions between their responsibilities and job functions.


The issues related to licensing of GIS professionals and land surveyors were effectively resolved in September 2006 with the publication of a Model Rules document by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Prior to this time, the GIS and land surveying communities were sometimes divided about the need to license GIS professionals. The thinking was that GIS professionals, particularly those in government agencies, might impact private property rights based on the maps and GIS products that they produced. To avoid creating any further division between the two communities, professionals from many disciplines worked together under the auspices of NCEES to create the Model Rules document which was first released in September 2006. This document is a compliment to the NCEES Model Law document which is provided for implementation by the licensing boards in each state. The organizations and individuals that participated in this effort, which was chaired/facilitated by ACSM Past-President Jim Plasker, were:

  • ACSM (John Dailey; David W. Gibson)
  • ASCE (Robert C. Burtch; Steven D. Johnson)
  • ASPRS (Karen Schuckman; Doug Fuller)
  • MAPPS (George Gross; G. Michael Ritchie)
  • NSGIC (Lynda Wayne; Gene Trobia)
  • NSPS (Lee Hennes; M. Greg Johnson)
  • URISA (Bruce Joffe)

The 'Heart of the Matter'

Section 210.25 of the Model Rules "Inclusions and Exclusions of Surveying Practice"

Section 210.25 of the 2006 Model Rules provided the language necessary to understand the respective roles of GIS professionals and licensed land surveyors and when the work of a GIS professional might cross a threshold that would require licensure as a professional land surveyor. That information is below:

A. Activities Included within Surveying Practice

Activities that must be accomplished under the responsible charge of a professional surveyor (unless specifically exempted in Section B include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. The creation of maps and georeferenced databases representing authoritative locations for boundaries, the location of fixed works, or topography. This includes maps and georeferenced databases prepared by any person, firm, or government agency where that data is provided to the public as a survey product.
  2. Original data acquisition, or the resolution of conflicts between multiple data sources, when used for the authoritative location of features within the following data themes: geodetic control, orthoimagery, elevation and hydrographic, fixed works, private and public boundaries, and cadastral information.
  3. Certification of positional accuracy of maps or measured survey data.
  4. Adjustment or authoritative interpretation of raw survey data.
  5. Geographic Information System (GIS) - based parcel or cadastral mapping used for authoritative boundary definition purposes wherein land title or development rights for individual parcels are, or may be, affected.
  6. Authoritative interpretation of maps, deeds, or other land title documents to resolve conflicting data elements.
  7. Acquisition of field data required to authoritatively position fixed works or cadastral data relative to geodetic control.
  8. Analysis, adjustment or transformation of cadastral data of the of the parcel layer(s) with respect to the geodetic control layer within a GIS resulting in the affirmation of positional accuracy.

B. Activities Excluded from Surveying Practice

A distinction must be made in the use of electronic systems between making or documenting original measurements in the creation of survey products, versus the copying, interpretation, or representation of those measurements in such systems. Further, a distinction must be made according to the intent, use, or purpose of measurement products in electronic systems to determine a definitive location versus the use of those products as a locational reference for planning, infrastructure management, and general information. The following items are not to be included as activities within the definition of surveying:

  1. The creation of general maps:
    1. Prepared by private firms or government agencies for use as guides to motorists, boaters, aviators or pedestrians;
    2. Prepared for publication in a gazetteer or atlas as an educational tool or reference publication;
    3. Prepared for or by education institutions for use in the curriculum of any course of study;
    4. Produced by any electronic or print media firm as an illustrative guide to the geographic location of any event;
    5. Prepared by laypersons for conversational or illustrative purposes. This includes advertising material and users guides.
  2. The transcription of previously georeferenced data into a GIS or LIS by manual or electronic means, and the maintenance thereof, provided the data are clearly not intended to indicate the authoritative location of property boundaries, the precise definition of the shape or contour of the earth, and/or the precise location of fixed works of humans.
  3. The transcription of public record data, without modification except for graphical purposes, into a GIS- or LIS-based cadastre (tax maps and associated records) by manual or electronic means, and the maintenance of that cadastre, provided the data are clearly not intended to authoritatively represent property boundaries. This includes tax maps and zoning maps.
  4. The preparation of any document by any federal government agency that does not define real property boundaries. This includes civilian and military versions of quadrangle topographic maps, military maps, satellite imagery, and other such documents.
  5. The incorporation or use of documents or databases prepared by any federal agency into a GIS/LIS, including but not limited to federal census and demographic data, quadrangle topographic maps, and military maps.
  6. Inventory maps and databases created by any organization, in either hard-copy or electronic form, of physical features, facilities, or infrastructure that are wholly contained within properties to which they have rights or for which they have management responsibility. The distribution of these maps and/or databases outside the organization must contain appropriate metadata describing, at a minimum, the accuracy, method of compilation, data source(s) and date(s), and disclaimers of use clearly indicating that the data are not intended to be used as a survey product.
  7. Maps and databases depicting the distribution of natural resources or phenomena prepared by foresters, geologists, soil scientists, geophysicists, biologists, archeologists, historians, or other persons qualified to document such data.
  8. Maps and georeferenced databases depicting physical features and events prepared by any government agency where the access to that data is restricted by statute. This includes georeferenced data generated by law enforcement agencies involving crime statistics and criminal activities.