Interview for The Guardian on Why Open Data Doesn’t Mean Open Government

I was recently interviewed for a piece in The Guardian about “Why open data doesn’t mean open government”. Here’s the section of the interview from which the article quotes:

It is critical to remember the distinction between ‘open data’ and ‘open government’. Open data is a way to remove legal and technical barriers to using digital information. This data can be used by civil society groups, journalists or civic hackers in the service of public interest campaigning, reportage or civic tech projects.

But publishing open data is of course not sufficient for open governments or open societies. It is just one ingredient in the mix – and no replacement for other vital elements of democratic societies like robust access to information laws, whistleblower protections and rules to protect freedom of expression, freedom of press and freedom of assembly. And it isn’t just autocratic regimes who neglect these other elements. Just look at the recent treatment of whistleblowers and leakers, or concerns around the UK government’s proposals for amending FOI laws.

While some governments may see open data initiatives as an easy way to demonstrate their democratic credentials, at Open Knowledge we are interested in advancing a more ambitious, progressive civil society agenda around open data. We are interested in going beyond the disclosure of existing datasets as open data – towards looking at how civil society groups might be able to change what is measured in the first place. If one can compare official data collection to photography, we’re interested in not only who has access to the pictures, but what the camera captures and (when it comes to personal information for example) what it doesn’t capture.

For more on the distinction between open data and open government see, for example, Harlan Yu and David Robinson’s paper on this topic for the UCLA Law Review.

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