Free Our Data: the blog

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

The postcode debate, summed up beautifully on Tom Watson’s blog

Tom Watson MP, the Cabinet Office minister who is also the political wing of the Power Of Information taskforce, started an interesting debate on his blog, when he noted a comment by Simon Dickson about the usefulness of the Postcode Address File.

He mused, “I’m going to spend some time trying to understand just why [PAF] can’t be available for free or at marginal cost. Feel free to air your views in the comment section.”

And boy, did people air their comments. It’s worth reading in full, but I think the prize – at least the Free Our Data prize for stating the value of the free data model – goes to Greg, who (in a long and well-argued comment) sums up by responding to “Mitch” (an earlier commenter who had worked in the Royal Mail on updating the PAF):

The points you make, Mitch, are unfortunately so reminisecent of the innovation-stifling opinions of inward-facing bureaucrats which have been such a major contributor to Britain’s loss of economic advantage over the years. Examples which are now so clear include the fact that we invented public-key encryption long before the US, but kept it a government secret rather than using it to gain an edge in commerce; or that Frank Whittle invented the jet engine only to find that closed-minded bureaucrats couldn’t see it working. Bureaucrats are rarely the best people to judge whether something has a place in propelling innovation and competitiveness. The fact that there’s so much energy on my side of the postcodes debate [arguing to make it available for free] says it all.

Mitch; you should be proud that you worked on a world-leading data source. It’s just such a shame its wings are crippled by its owners.

We love it when people state the benefits so clearly. The whole thread is worth reading, though, for the vigour of the arguments on both sides.

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