Michael Geist: What Open Government Hides

ATN-300InsightaaS: Michael Geist is one of the most important advocates for digital rights in Canada. InsightaaS appreciates and frequently highlights his stances on issues ranging from copyright and counterfeiting to wireless rates and net neutrality.

The post highlighted today provides a good example of why we follow and discuss Geist’s work. In it, he contrasts “open government” –  “open data, open information, and open dialogue” – with access to information. Geist believes that “there is much to like about Canada’s open government efforts,” but contrasts the release of information through these initiatives to the government’s failure “to provide the necessary resources to the access to information system.” As a result, people using this system to obtain information that the government is not releasing voluntarily encounter “long delays, aggressive use of exceptions to redact important information, significant costs, and inconsistent implementation of technology.” Geist reports that “efforts on open dialogue and open government suffer from similar shortcomings,” with public consultations allowing for different points of view to be advanced, but resulting in no changes to key pieces of legislation.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that government is following a dichotomous course, releasing data via open government activities while taking steps to reduce transparency in core activities. It does raise the spectre, though, that we will be fed only what the government cares to disclose, with those looking for more sensitive information dismissed as unreasonably focused on prying loose government ‘secrets’ – data that by law should be available to citizens. As Geist concludes, “Open government — whether open data or dialogue — offers great promise to provide a more transparent, inclusive and efficient government. Unfortunately, ignoring issues such as access to information and genuine efforts to incorporate public input into policies means that for now open government is most notable for what it hides.”

Treasury Board President Tony Clement unveiled the latest version of his Open Government Action Plan last month, continuing a process that has seen some important initiatives to make government data such as statistical information and mapping data publicly available in open formats free from restrictive licenses.

My weekly technology law column…notes there is much to like about Canada’s open government efforts, which have centred on three pillars: open data, open information, and open dialogue. Given the promise of “greater transparency and accountability, increased citizen engagement, and driving innovation and economic opportunity”, few would criticize the aspirational goals of Canada’s open government efforts. Yet scratch the below the surface of new open data sets and public consultations and it becomes apparent that there is much that open government hides.

The federal efforts around open data have shown significant progress in recent years. What started as a few pilot projects with relatively obscure data has grown dramatically with over 200,000 government data sets now openly available for use without the need for payment or permission. Moreover, the government has addressed concerns with its open government licence, removing some of the initial restrictions that unnecessarily hamstrung early efforts.

However, the enthusiasm for open data has not been matched with reforms to the access to information system. Despite government claims of openness and transparency, all government data is not equal…

Read the entire post on Michael Geist’s blogsite: Link



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