Free Our Data: the blog

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

Times article echoes Free Our Data campaign

The Times has printed an article by Gervase Markham of the Mozilla Foundation (which develops the Firefox browser, Thunderbird mail reader and a Sunbird calendar program) that makes exactly the points of the Free Our Data campaign.

He writes:

[a] double-charging scheme has been in place for years for government-collected data, such as maps, weather and hydrographics (rivers, tides and floods). After all, if our taxes paid for the collection, one would have thought that meant that we could have access to it. Right?

Until 1999, the Ordnance Survey, the British Government’s mapping arm, was funded by the taxpayer to make detailed maps of the entire country. These days, they sell limited-use licences to this national asset on a “cost recovery” basis. So, having paid my taxes, when I buy an OS map to go walking in the Lakes, I have the privilege of paying again.

Maps underpin many useful services we take advantage of today. From travel directions to house prices, much of the information we care about has a geospatial element. The effect of restrictions on mapping data availability are easily demonstrated.

The OS has, naturally, risen to its defence in the comments. But it’s nice to see commenters pointing out the existence of this campaign, and wondering which MP one should prod to get action. (My own comment pointing to this blog and the existence of the Guardian campaign doesn’t seem to have got past the moderator – newspapers can be so territorial; it’s as if rivals never have any ideas).

Certainly, the question of which governmental levers one should pull is uppermost in our minds right now, with Parliament about to come back. Who do you think we should try to interview to get the campaign more visible within government?

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