Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


Government advisers are starting to listen. Next, ministers?

Today’s Guardian has an article – “One small step on a long-haul journey” – about the latest meeting of the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (APPSI), which discovers that the concept of the Free Our Data campaign has trickled through.

There’s a long and interesting interview with Professor Richard Susskind, who chairs the panel, forming part of the piece. One interesting – and cautionary – observation he makes about what might happen in a post-free-data world:

the government needs to be confident that in making information more freely available we can still be confident of its quality. It is also important to beware of replacing public-sector near-monopolies with private-sector ones. “If major private-sector bodies exploit the free data, which the taxpayer has paid for in the first place, then charging citizens and profiting substantially looks like citizens are paying twice and possibly over the odds.”

The other main barriers? No minister is in overall charge of what happens to government information; and nobody wants to be the person who signs something which notionally makes taxes seem to go up (by, say, revoking trading fund status).

Our response to the first – about replacing private-sector monopolies with public-sector ones – is to compare it with the availability of the Linux operating system, and its many variants. You can roll your own Linux; the source code is out there. Or you can get a service package from one of dozens of companies. None dominates. All are making an OK living from offering support for something which is free. The Linux economy, actually, is very big: it drives websites and handheld objects and all sorts. More secure websites use Linux than use Windows. Why do you think that is?

As ever, critiques of – or supporting evidence for – our argument are welcome in the comments.

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