AccountabilityManagement
October 23, 2013

Open data, closed information

Quote of the week

“…technology is allowing us to, and obliging us, to do government differently.”

— Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne

Editor’s Corner

It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the information, privacy and government data front.

Early this week, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced her intention to release “great swaths” of data on Ontario’s open data website. In making this announcement, she argued that, “information, the process of decision-making, belongs to the people.”

Federal Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement has made open data one of his pet projects. He has launched the federal government’s open data portal at data.gc.ca and Canada has signed the Open Data Charter with other G8 countries. He noted at GTEC that, “citizens have the ability to identify an opportunity and work with government to reach a solution,” thanks to access to open data.

Yet in other areas, information is not being made as accessible to citizens as it might. In her annual report last week, federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault noted that there is “significant deterioration” in the federal access system. Complaints to her office were up 50 percent in the first quarter of the new year as a result of everything from slow response times to unreasonable charges for information.

And on October 9, information and privacy commissioners from across Canada issued a news release calling on all governments to modernize their information and privacy. The host of the meeting, Elizabeth Denham, BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, had called in the October issue of CGE for a “new vision for information rights” to respond to the fact that “the challenges to these rights have really grown in scale and complexity.”

Why the contradiction – government open to releasing raw data but apparently unwilling to cooperate when it comes to other information? It would seem that when the rubber hits the road when it comes to access there is a distinction in government minds between raw data (good to release) and information that has led to, or could lead to, decision-making (more risky to release).

That distinction would explain why governments that are building portals for open data are slow to release information that they believe would reflect badly upon their decisions.

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