The UK government’s ambition is to become the “world leader” in open data, chancellor George Osborne said at Google’s Zeitgeist conference this morning.
He said it plans to release “some of the most valuable datasets still locked away in government servers” in the coming year. This, he says, will allow citizens to “to analyse the performance of public services, and of competing providers within those public services”.
Osborne made specific reference to healthcare data, arguing that open data from hospitals will not only allow the public to compare the performance of their local healthcare providers, but also provide useful information for scientists to analyse the spread of disease and other health problems.
“This approach – using large datasets to search for possible correlations and causations – shows the massive potential for open data to transform scientific research,” he said.
Osborne’s decision to discuss this topic at a Google conference may be of significance, in light of a 2009 report from a right wing think tank that is believed to have influenced the Conservative leadership now in government. Entitled “It’s ours: Why we, not the government, must own our data”, the report by the Centre for Policy Studies argued that private information services providers, including Microsoft and Google, could be entrusted with patient care data.
Elsewhere in his speech, Osborne revealed a recent attempted cyber attack on UK government systems.
“At some point last year, a perfectly legitimate G20-related email was sent to HM Treasury and some other international partners. Within minutes it appeared that the email had been re-sent to the same distribution list,” he explained. “In fact, in the second email the legitimate attachment had been swapped for a file containing malicious code. To the recipient it would have simply looked like the attachment had been sent twice. Fortunately, our systems identified this attack and stopped it.”
Osborne’s description suggests there may be a link between this episode and the successful cyber attack on France’s finance ministry, which took place before the G20 summit.
The entire speech, which also touches on the government’s Tech City initiative, the National Cyber Security Programme and its digitial inclusion work, can be read on the HM Treasury website here.