Skip to main content

Making Open Data real



United Kingdom

This alert was featured in Tech Bytes, our technology law newsletter.

Tech Bytes contents


From the start, the Coalition Government has indicated that transparency is top of its programme. The emphasis on transparency has been underlined with the publication in August of the Cabinet Office consultation – ‘Making Open Data Real’.  The proposals are hailed as setting out the most ambitious Open Data agenda of any government in the world.  As such the presumption is that data about public services will be Open Data. Open Data must be able to be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone.

The proposals outline how the government will move to a position where most data held by public bodies and about public services will be available for re-use under the Open Government Licence, apart from in specific circumstances e.g. personal data.  An Open Data agenda should, the consultation sets out, provide opportunities for accountability, choice, productivity, quality and outcomes, social growth and economic growth.
Certain significant proposals stand out (with our comments afterwards in italics):

  • Introducing a new requirement that all public bodies and providers of public services proactively publish data about the services they deliver. Currently there is an obligation to progressively make environmental information accessible to the public under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 but not otherwise
  • Amending the current fees regulations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to facilitate the release of more data. Currently the limits for determining whether information (that is subject to a FOIA request) is held and then locating, retrieving and extracting it are 24 hours for central government and 18 hours for all other public authorities
  • Ensuring through procurement rules that data collected by public service providers is stored in ICT systems that minimise the cost and difficulty of publishing data online. This would impact ICT system designers and all those providing ICT outsourcing services to government. Effectively, ICT procurements of the future would require system specifications that take account of Open Data standards

Another potential consequence of the Open Data agenda impacts those organisations working in collaboration with government to assist with public service projects. If such organisations use the data collected in relation to public services for their own purposes it is possible, under the Open Data agenda, that such data will become more publicly available regardless of the implications for the organisation’s business model. The consultation is specifically consulting on the range of organisations that the Open Data policy proposals apply to and whether certain thresholds should be set to determine the range of public services in scope.

The consultation closes on 27 October 2011 and broadly speaking invites views on:

  • Enhancing a ‘right to data’, establishing stronger rights for individuals, businesses and other acts to obtain data from public bodies and about public services
  • Transparency standards to enforce this right to data
  • How public bodies and providers of public services might be held to account for delivering Open Data
  • How government can ensure collection and publication of the most useful data
  • How government can make the internal workings of government and the public sector more open
  • How far is there a role for government to stimulate enterprise and market making in the use of Open Data