The freedom of open data and Information freedom has always been a difficult topic. In the modern, digital, world the freedom to learn new information has become somewhat of a given for much of the western world. The age of Google and Wikipedia has presented the world with a wealth of information merely a few clicks away. Yet what is open data and what opportunities does it offer us today?
Open Data: Just what is it?
Open Data is, in essence, a Buzzword which has appeared in the last few years. It is the digital publication of government and administrative data. This data is publically available, official data. It is without copyright and can be viewed, edited, and commented upon and importantly processed free of charge and without fears of repercussions for its use. Personal and private data is excluded, including that of companies which governments should not have access to. Open data is generally concerned with technical data, such as economic data, development plans, maps, detailed structures of public institutions and government bodies, and of course the details of the government budget.
Why Open Data and Why Should Data be Digitalized
On the one hand, there are the benefits that digitalization brings to management, storage and distribution costs. By digitalizing data that is already publically available, public bodies and institutions can cut costs on nearly every aspect of data collection, processing, and distribution. Not only is digitalization cheaper, it is more efficient and less prone to errors. The other side of open data is the trust that it brings in public institutions. Citizens are able to check on everything from employment statistics in a particular sector in their region to the documents deciding on local housing development. This enables people to engage in debate with other citizens or officials on the same level, promoting a fairer democracy for all. This process also works in reverse, governments can learn from engaged citizens, and are able to make better decisions.
The downside of Open Data
As with many issues regarding the power held by governments, the trust placed in open data is ultimately trust placed in the government who publishes the data. Many of us who are fortunate enough to live in a country where data is checked by independent watchdogs, economic institutions and private individuals (not to mention the markets). We are also fortunate that our governments, for the most part, publish data that has not been doctored or altered to suit their own needs or expectations. Herein lies the issue, open data is only trustworthy and a good thing if it is published by a trustworthy source. The Digitalization of data and Open Data offer many opportunities for governments, institutions, and individuals to contribute to a better knowledge of our governments, their institutions, our economy and our localities. The widespread availability of data helps to put all citizens on the same knowledge base, thereby strengthening the democratic rights.
The Digitalization of data and Open Data offer many opportunities for governments, institutions, and individuals to contribute to a better knowledge of our governments, their institutions, our economy and our localities. Open data is inherently a good thing as it enables all citizens to judge, question and understand more about the places in which they are living and working. In its best form it can strengthen democratic countries massively, yet in its worse, it can be used by governments for their own aims.