As we report in today’s Guardian, in Minister listens to Guardian’s campaign call, we had an off-the-record meeting with Baroness Ashton, who is in charge of public sector information at the Department of Constitutional Affairs – a role that she has had since the Office of Public Sector Information moved from the Cabinet Office to become part of the National Archives near the end of last year.
The meeting was off the record (so we can’t tell you what she said) because the government is still considering its response to the OFT report on PSI, which won’t come out until after the local government elections in May. (We have no idea what the connection of the local elections is to PSI, but let’s let that go.)
One can though get some idea of the concerns that are going on; Baroness Ashton is clearly listening to everyone who feels that the current system isn’t quite working, as well as those who do. She has promised us an attributable briefing once the response to the OFT is published.
One concern we did note though was about how one could be sure, with a free data model, that errors weren’t being introduced in re-use:
Other questions raised familiar objections to the free data idea. One is how to assure the integrity of government data when it is re-used by third parties. While there are technical solutions such as encryption hashes, the answer may be that the government has to learn to let go. After all, in an era of free data, users and commercial competitors will always be able to make their own checks against the original. And free geospatial data could improve the accuracy of sketchmaps produced by bodies such as tourist authorities, perhaps even saving lives.
We can offer an example here: the photo on this page is, apparently, Crown Copyright; and anyone can follow it back to the original, here, to see if we’ve messed around with it. (We haven’t, because we’re simply calling it directly from the government server.) Data re-use with Crown Copyright without cost? It sounds like a good idea to us.