The stuff and nonsense of open data in government

Ian L. Boyd at Nature: “….Government is mostly involved in creating or implementing policies concerning how people live their lives. Making government data open could be seen as the equivalent of open government itself because data are increasingly the ‘stuff’ of government. But there are moral and ethical issues concerning the data owned by government and there is an issue of trust about how government handles data. The more obvious issues concerning data that are tagged specifically with the identity of an individual are probably well covered, but we all know that this is not sufficient. We need to be aware of the pitfalls about opening government without appropriate assurances around the ethical and moral use of the data it holds.

It would be wrong, however, to always see the risks presented by open data and not also see the benefits. Like all innovations it is important to design the application of the innovation to maximise benefits and minimise risks. The intelligent use of data could revolutionise government and place a lot more control in the hands of individuals by, for example, ensuring that everybody can have instant access to all the information that government holds about them and can make their own decisions about who should be allowed to see that information and what uses can be made of it. There is a big drive in government towards this kind of model of data control. Commercial operators, such as major retailers, often hold a lot of data about individuals. They should also have to move towards the empowerment of individuals to say what should or should not be done with data that concerns them….(More)”.