The case for allowing free access to data collected and held at taxpayers’ expense has received endorsement from the top of the British government. In his speech on civil liberties last week, Gordon Brown, the prime minister, said: “Public information does not belong to government, it belongs to the public on whose behalf government is conducted.”
Brown’s speech acknowledged the power of the web to give access to information about public services. “The availability of real-time data about what is happening on the ground – whether about local policing or local health services – is vital in enabling people to make informed choices about how they use their local services and the standards they expect.”
Brown is also considering opening new parts of the government’s digital archives….
However, the prime minister did not mention how his enthusiasm for allowing citizens access to data squares with the policy of encouraging some publicly-owned bodies to charge for data sets, especially for re-use in web mashups and other products. But Locus, a trade association, welcomed the speech. “Next time we hope he will focus on re-use,” it said.
We agree. Over the past 18 months, our Free Our Data campaign has argued that the government should stop attempting to trade in information, but instead make its unrefined data (except where it threatens privacy or national security) freely available to all comers.
Later this month, an independent review commissioned by the Treasury will report on the costs and benefits of the current “trading fund” model….
PMR: Credit to the Guardian which has campaigned for Open Data – particularly in government areas. British political processes work in mysterious ways (unlike the US which from here seems to be a well-accepted public bearfight in the lobbies). Here the Open Access policy is a “level playing field” – code (I think from Lord Sainsbury) which means that commercial interests and public interest thrash it out with the government acting as a spectator on the touchline. Of course they can always move the goal posts and stonewall on a sticky wicket or kick it into touch when they are stymied.