Open data won't necessarily be free, government admits
Hopes that the government was poised to abolish charges for data sets such as
postcodes have been dashed by a much-awaited white paper.
Unleashing the Potential, the open data white paper published by the Cabinet Office this week, restates the government's commitment to opening data on public services for inspection and re-use. However on the "salient and emotive issue" of charging, it stresses the need to protect bodies relying on income streams.
On the long-running controversy over charges for the Postcode Address File (PAF), the white paper promises only a review by Ofcom to ensure that take-up of PAF is incentivised, as well as the costs of maintaining the PAF and the associated "licensing and pricing structures".
"Over the next six months, the government will also look at options to ensure that the UK as a whole continues to get the best benefit from the PAF and that the PAF continues to be a key part of the single definitive address register."
Despite the promise of a "tidal wave" of new data releases, the white paper says that data from members of the "Public Data Group" the Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Land Registry and Companies House will continue to be liable to charges for the immediate future. "We acknowledge that, at present charging structures for public data remain a salient and emotive issue for many users but equally we must ensure that any changes to existing arrangements must be driven by the latest available evidence on the most appropriate use of public funds."
The white paper also cautions against moves at a European level to sweep away charges.“While we firmly believe that greater openness and availability of data for re-use across Europe are essential, we are mindful that this must be done in a pragmatic and affordable way which doesn't add unnecessary burdens (or potential loss of revenue) on public authorities."
In another controversial area, the white paper says the government will clarify the law on data sharing. However it says that the government has taken on board the recommendations of an independent review. In his foreword, Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, says "The success of the information marketplace hinges on our ability to safeguard people's data from misuse and rigorously protect the public¹s right to privacy. We will ensure that privacy is not considered as an afterthought but at the beginning of all discussions concerning the release of a new dataset."
Other promises in the white paper include:
- A "completely overhauled" version of www.data.gov.uk, with better search facilities and better tools for developers.
- Setting up a social mobility transparency board, to examine the use of linked anonymised data to improve understanding.
- Updating a code of practice on the use of freedom of information law to obtain datasets. Members of the public will have the opportunity to contribute to the code through a "crowdsourced wiki".