Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens to close, pursued by Environment Agency (updated)

The website, which has been featured here on a number of occasions – first for getting the list of telephone masts, and then for getting Environment Agency data about flood risks for England, Scotland and Wales – is shutting down.

The reason: it’s not really making any money (property adverts are one thing, but you may have noticed there’s been a tailing-off in house sales recently..) and – I understand – it was still being threatened with legal action by the Environment Agency. (We’ll check this with the EA and correct if necessary.) Update 11/10: the Environment Agency says it has not pursued any action since last year and that none is outstanding.

We noted in June 2007 that the Environment Agency asserted its copyright over flood risk data, forcing ononemap to remove it from its site.

What wasn’t told at the time was the efforts that the Environment Agency went to in order to obfuscate its data: it renders the flood maps as pictures, rather than using layers. That means each search is an individually-generated picture. There’s no “generic” map of the flood data.

So ononemap got to work – and recruited a handful of servers to crunch 24/7 through the data, using a colour-recognition algorithm to figure out what the flood risk for each part of the map was, and encode that back as its flood data. (Interesting legal question: since it isn’t using the EA data directly, but interpreting it as presented, is that a new database with its own copyright? Or is it simply a re-representation of the EA data, and hence an infringement of copyright?)

The site’s blog ( is no longer functioning, though the site is for now.

It’s a pity, though: an early attempt to try to make something of the data available on the web and create a useful mashup for would-be property buyers. But the latter are in scarce supply right now, while the right data weren’t ever available in the form needed.

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