Monthly Archives: July 2008

MapTube, Crime and Privacy

Chris Osborne posted a comment to an earlier entry drawing our attention to a MapTube project mapping crime in London. This deserves a fuller article as it demonstrates a number of interesting points.

1. MapTube itself is worth a mention. This initiative from UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) is a great demonstrator of the power of map-based information. There is a mass of interesting information and tools behind MapTube with the GeoVue project of particular interest. The GMapCreator software that has been created as part of this is useful for Google Maps mashers.

2. Privacy has come up as an issue for the Power of Information agenda. We have set ourselves the task of only dealing with data that is not personal. In most cases the distinction is clear, but there are areas such as crime mapping where there is some uncertainty about whether publishing detailed information would have implications in terms of data protection law. The point to consider is the extent to which individuals, especially victims, can be identified when details of individual crime incidents are shown. This quote from the Data Protection Act 1998 tells us when data has to be regarded as personal:

“personal data” means data which relate to a living individual who can be identified—
(a) from those data, or
(b) from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller,

The issue for some uses of apparently anonymous public data is in this second clause, i.e. does it relate to a real person when the data is combined with other information. The quantity of data now available online and the very power of Web 2.0 technologies makes it increasingly likely that data can be linked up to identify an individual.

The MapTube crime map links through pins to published newspaper articles which name individual crime victims. In the cases shown on the map, the victims are tragically deceased and therefore outside the specific definition of personal data, but this does provide a graphic illustration of the general phenomenon of linkage of crimes to victims that is worrying the regulators.
Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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OPSI Annual Report

The Office of Public Sector Information has today published its annual report which has a wealth of useful information for anyone interested in the Power of Information agenda:

The UK Government has today presented to Parliament OPSI’s annual report on the re-use of Public Sector Information. The report has been published as Cm 7446 copies of which can be purchased from TSO or downloaded from the OPSI website at www.opsi.gov.uk/advice/psi-regulations/uk-report-reuse-psi-2008.pdf

This annual Report marks the third anniversary of the UK’s implementation of the European Directive on the Re-use of Public Sector Information (PSI). The report coincides with the European Commission’s review of the implementation of the Directive. The UK Report will feed into the review process.

The Report highlights the key milestones and tracks the progress made by OPSI and the UK government over the past year. The European Commission has praised the UK for its commitment to PSI, much which has been achieved through OPSI’s central policy role for PSI. The UK is seen as an exemplar and leader in PSI across Europe.

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European Directive on Public Sector Information

A key piece of legislation affecting the use of public sector information is the European Directive on the Re-use of Public Sector Information. This is perhaps not the most widely known piece of law but is critical in that it places a duty on EU governments to create national policy on public data re-use. The European Commission (EC) describes the Directive’s objectives as:

It sets minimum rules for the re-use of PSI throughout the European Union. In its recitals it encourages Member States to go beyond these minimum rules and to adopt open data policies, allowing a broad use of documents held by public sector bodies.

The UK Government set up an Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (APPSI) as part of its process of implementing this Directive.

The Advisory Panel is currently drafting a submission to the EC in response to a review of the Directive that it is carrying out. The outcome of this review could have a major impact on the legal framework for public sector information in the UK so is of great significance to the Power of Information agenda.

APPSI have published a draft of their submission and are inviting public comments by email to secretariat@appsi.gov.uk

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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Open Government Data

There is an Open Government Working Group in the US who have a wiki with some good links to US initiatives. This group has published a set of principles for open government data and invites discussion on these.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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The highlight of Opentech – New data unlocking service

Our kind friends in the Office of Public Sector Information stole our thunder at Opentech. Amongst all the other interesting things going on they very quietly announced their new data unlocking service.

The unlocking service in action

The unlocking service in action

The proposition is very simple. If you have any problems accessing public information then you contact OPSI. The way their service works is:

  1. You describe the public sector information asset you want unlocked for re-use, and post a request to the service. We’ll check through your request and if it’s OK (e.g. not a Freedom of Information request) we’ll post it here.
  2. Others can see your request and support it, either by adding a comment or by voting. The more support a request has, the better the chances of unlocking the information you want to re-use.
  3. We’ll contact the public sector information holder and see what can be done to unlock the information for re-use. To keep things simple, if the problem relates to an issue specifically covered by the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations or the Information Fair Trader Scheme, we’ll treat it accordingly – so you won’t need to make a separate complaint. We’ll post back our findings here.”

Not much more you can add to that list really. A fantastic development that is to be applauded.

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Government Data and the Invisible Hand

A group of academics at Princeton University in the US has published a very interesting paper called ‘Government Data and the Invisible Hand’.

This quote from the Abstract gives a sense of its strong alignment with the Power of Information thinking in the UK:

Today, government bodies consider their own websites to be a higher priority than technical infrastructures that open up their data for others to use. We argue that this understanding is a mistake. It would be preferable for government to understand providing reusable data, rather than providing websites, as the core of its online publishing responsibility.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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Two new APIs and a couple of chunky zip files…

A crack team of data ferrets working for the Task Force have returned from their first forays into the bowels of Government. And lo, they come bearing gigabytes of juicy data, most of which is ready to share in handy API format. Check out the Office of National Statistics Neighbourhood Statistics API for an avalanche of local data. Or the NHS Choices API, for those of you who fancy re-using much of the advice available on the NHS website. Or the 47MB of zipped XML making up the last year of official notices Governement and others are required by law to publish in the London Gazette. Or even the contents of EduBase listing the address of every school in England and Wales with details of the headteacher, age range of pupils and school status (e.g. foundation school).

What’s more, the ferrets assure me that there’s more to come…

Edit: Clarified that Edubase is only data from England and Wales

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