Open data consultation finds widespread privacy fears

Privacy was a "recurring theme" in responses to the government’s ‘Making Open Data Real’ consultation, the Cabinet Office revealed today.

The consultation was launched in August to take views on how the government might "best embed a culture of openness and transparency in our public services". It received nearly 500 responses from business, government organisations and charities, and today published a summary of the feedback.

"The interaction between open data and privacy and the potential for open data to have negative consequences on privacy was a recurring theme, [t]hough this did not translate into a general consensus that the potential risks outweigh the benefits of open data or that existing data protection measures are insufficient," the summary claims. "Some respondents argued that existing privacy protection measures do not go far enough, whilst others felt they go too far."

One organisation to express privacy concerns was IBM, which pointed out the risks represented by "real-time open data" in its response. Although real time open data can be highly valuable, the company warned that data on traffic and transport delays and extreme weather reports could be used maliciously. For this reason, it suggested that consumers should be issued with licenses to access live data that could be revoked if necessary.

BT expressed fears that, as a public sector contractor, it might be required to supply confidential information beyond the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Several public sector organisations also expressed fears that the concept of a "right to data" would overwhelm them with Freedom of Information style requests.

Some respondents identified new areas where open data would be useful. Network equipment vendor Cisco wrote that the ‘Internet of things’ will will become a primary generator of information that should be considered open data. "The ever-increasing ability to analyse so-called ‘Big Data’ means that datasets of previously perceived low value will become well worth collecting and publishing," Cisco wrote.

Pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca wrote that opening up medical data would allow it to "ask more complex questions around [the] safety, effectiveness and health outcomes of our medicines, [and] enable these questions to be answered earlier in a medicines lifecycle."

Google’s response warned the government against viewing public data as a source of revenue, writing that the "value to be gained from releasing data openly is much greater in economic and social terms than the revenue to be
gained from charging for data". Google added it would like to see "open access to a comprehensive geo-coded UK addressing database", more open mapping data and improved public transport data.

Other organisations expressed doubts about the ability of the government’s current IT infrastructure to support its open data ambitions. "A number of respondents argued a change in ethos in IT delivery at the strategic level is required within government departments if an enhanced right to data is to be realised," the summary revealed.

The government will lay out its transparency strategy in light of the consultation later this year.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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