Posts Tagged ‘Guardian’

Article: Free Our Data

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

How can public information be free if there’s a charge?
Guardian, 8 June 2006
By Heather Brooke

It may be a modern version of squaring the circle. According to the director of the Office of Public Sector Information (Opsi), Carol Tullo, it is feasible to open up the government’s stores of data, uphold copyright and charge the public for official information. Speaking recently at a conference of freedom of information officers from government, she said: “Why should we be gatekeepers? We have enough to do in our day jobs than to worry about what the local economy may find interesting.”

The default position of government should be to trade in information, Tullo said, adding that transparency and openness benefits government in many ways. She cited the non-political website TheyWorkForYou.com – which repurposes data from Hansard online to let users find out about MPs’ voting records, attendance and even register of interests – as an example of how making government information available can benefit society.

“The people at TheyWorkForYou.com have said to me, ‘we shouldn’t be providing this [site]. This is something government should have been providing.’ Actually, no. This is a perfect example of entrepreneurial private-sector activity,” Tullo said.

So does the example of that site mean the Free Our Data campaign – which aims to get government to make available at no cost the non-personal data it collects, such as mapping and environmental information – is misguided? Is the problem simply with the private sector?

Unsurprisingly, no. The creators of TheyWorkForYou risked prosecution to build the site, because parliament (and through it, Opsi, which regulates crown copyright) initially refused to grant permission for them to re-use the Hansard data that was freely available online. It’s just another indication of how the system of assigning “copyright” and “value” to government data stifles wider innovation.
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