Free Our Data: the blog

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


Environment Agency… sells our data?

We asked about a year ago whether we could declare the campaign done, finished, over. And the answer was clearly no, we can’t.

We said at the time that we’d consider it done when the Environment Agency began making its data available for free.

Well, the big red phone has been flashing in the Free Our Data batcave. Things are not how they should be. We’re hearing reports that it is selling data.

Here’s an email we received today:

“As you might know, the Environment Agency in England and Wales manage/collect/produce several datasets. Back in 2007 you wrote an article about ononemap using EA’s flood maps and how they forced the website admin to remove it from ononemap website.

(Yes, we remember that.)

“Unfortunately, EA has gone far beyond that.” (We’ve redacted the rest for confidentiality reasons.)

We’ll file a Freedom of Information request to see if we can get more details. Stay tuned.

4 Responses to “Environment Agency… sells our data?”

  1. Richard White Says:

    Hi,

    The EA GeoStore is a non charging data sharing facility for Environment Agency staff and their partners. It is not for public use or for the sale of EA data to the public. Members of the public can still get free EA data by contacting their local EA office.

    Please get your facts correct before publishing incorrect informatio.

    Regards,

    Richard White.

  2. Ed Parsons Says:

    Richard,

    Do you know why the EA data is not just made available for download in this way, it would seem more efficent that people having to visit local EA offices ?

    ed

  3. Richard White Says:

    Hi,

    There are a variety of legal, licensing and technical reasons.

    The data on EA GeoStore is not just EA data, that of course the public can have access to as I mentioned earlier. There is also a lot of third party data that has to be paid for and licensed for use by EA staff and their partner organisations. That data is not available to the public.

    I agree that an order and download service, similar to the OS’s service would be useful. I’m sure the EA are considering that for data the public should be able to easily access.

    Regards,

    Richard.

  4. Anon Says:

    Whilst I applaude the success of the Free Our Data campaign so far, I think your aim at EA is somewhat misguided. Similarly to the British Geological Survey, their data practices are actually quite sensible. They both provide a lot of data for free – much of it online – and they only charge for premium data that is costly to produce and of commercial value, which in many cases includes IP from commercial third parties and therefore attracts royalties. If they did not charge for these datasets they would have to absorb the royalties themselves (at taxpayers’ expense) and also be accused of unfair competition. It’s a tricky one for you to tackle.

    If you are looking at further use cases where freeing up data would add a lot of value, I’d recommend you take aim at Royal Mail and the Coal Authority. RM is maybe an obvious one for postcodes and addressing data, but the Coal Authority has so far managed to slip below the radar eniterely.

    The CA’s data practices are deliberately obfuscating and commercially aggressive. They won’t release their taxpayer-funded coal-mining and ground-stability data over concerns that it might unduly alarm the public (a fair point perhaps, you’d be amazed at how many urban areas are at risk of ground instability from past and present coal mining), but at the same time they have no qualms over exploiting their monopoly dataset to allow site-specific access (via reports) at exorbitant rates (2 years ago they more than doubled the retail prices of these reports to make up for a drop in revenues from the property crash). Plus they have no scruples getting into bed with commercial partners to corner the environmental data market, creating another taxpayer funded monopoly that undermines the economy. You’d have your work cut out on that one!

    Whatever you do, keep up the good work & wish you good luck.

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