Free Our Data: the blog

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

Archive for August, 2006

Galileo is a publicly-funded satellite navigation system – so why were its codes secret?

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

In today’s Guardian, Galileo satellite’s secure codes cracked by Wendy M. Grossman looks at the mystery of the Galileo satellite system, so far publicly-funded, which is meant to offer public location services.. yet keeps its codes secret. Until, that is, an American team cracked them. Why aren’t the codes public, and can it keep them secret?

Why don’t local authorities release more data?

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

One of the topics brought up in the question-and-answer session at the RSA/Free Our Data debate in July was that local authorities often don’t know what data they can make available. SA Mathieson explores the topic more widely and explains how it’s a struggle to get data out of councils.

Sample extract:

But FoI has not created consistency in what authorities will release, although it is starting to help. Last year, local authorities including London’s Westminster city council refused to release hygiene inspection reports for food outlets under FoI, while the adjacent borough of Camden was putting such information online.

In December, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which has statutory responsibility for policing FoI, ruled that Bridgend county borough council in Wales should release a report for the Heronston hotel in Bridgend. The council had refused to do so, arguing that releasing these reports to the public would undermine discussions between businesses and the council on improving hygiene, but it decided not to appeal and now releases reports on request.

The intertwining of the Freedom of Information Act and this campaign is an interesting one, and we hear that the question of to what extent information released under FoI could be reused – perhaps commercially – is being discussed seriously within government. It would stop the strange situation allued to at the RSA/FOD debate, in which councils will release some maps but have to insist that they must not be revealed to anyone else. Freed information, indeed.

You can also now get a PDF transcript of the RSA/FOD debate.

Access to data denied: why isn’t there a free database of UK laws?

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

In today’s Guardian, Heather Brooke asks why there isn’t an online database which would tell us what laws are in force.

On August 2, the government rolled out the second stage of a long-delayed project to make the consolidated law of parliament accessible to the people. So how does it look? The public – who paid for the whole project – can’t get a look in.

No free public access sites have been granted permission to view the current system and testers of the database – predominantly from commercial legal publishing firms – have been told not to share their login and password. Even so, some testers are not entirely happy with what they’ve found after logging on to the top secret database of our country’s laws.

Firstly, an astounding Crown copyright notice greets the reader: “The Statute Law Database and the material on the SLD website are subject to Crown copyright protection. The Crown copyright waiver that applies to published legislation generally does not apply to SLD because it is a value-added product.

No matter that the value was added by public officials at taxpayer expense…

We think you’ll be amazed at how your data is being kept from you.

Manitoba, home of the free (data)

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

It’s always interesting to hear about foreign examples of data freedom. And the state of Manitoba, in Canada, has taken a very important step, after deciding that the bureaucracy invvolved in charging different bits of government for mapping data generated by another part of the state goverment was a waste of money – taxpayers’ money.

So it has made the data available for free.

Read Canada proves itself to be genuine land of the free: Manitoba (about three times larger than the UK, but with only 1 million inhabitants) might not give a precise comparator to the UK (since its local-level geography will change much more slowly, with less housebuilding and changing). But the rationale – that it’s too expensive to charge for, and more effective to make free – is encouraging.

You can also read about the Manitoba Land Initiative, as the scheme is called. [URL corrected – thanks Chris Corbin.]