Posted on: Thursday 5th of September 2013
On September 1 some important changes to the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) came into force – users that are entitled to a public sector dataset can now receive it in a useful form and can re-use it for commercial gain. The amendments are a further development which should be seen within the wider context of the UK Government’s commitment towards Open Data – promoting greater transparency and enabling its reuse in new services and applications stimulating economic growth – other programmes such as midata and Identity Assurance, and the evolving information economy.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities including government departments, local authorities and police forces. From now on data can be requested in a machine readable form, such as in a csv file, and the public body will have the responsibility to release it in this form as long as it is ‘reasonably practical’ to do so. Also, the data can be re-used under the terms of a licence. The Open Government Licence (OGL) is the default licence for data that can be re-used without charge; other licences (the Non-Commercial Government Licence and the Charged Licence) can be used where they are more appropriate. The ICO has published a helpful guidance on the changes here.
The principles behind the changes to the FoI – supporting transparency, empowering better decision making and driving innovation and economic growth – are also the same as those for midata, which is encouraging businesses to provide their customers with data held about them in a re-usable machine readable format. This ‘smart disclosure’ of datasets in a form fit for the electronically enabled digital age is building the success of the UK’s information marketplace and we are increasingly developing ‘a living library of information’ as it is called in the Open Data White Paper. The new Identity Assurance Service, which allows individual users to electronically control and exchange their identity credentials when making transactions with the Government and some private sector organisations, is another important step in the right direction and will be a springboard for empowerment and innovation.
Together these developments point to a new world where there is mass-scale, routine mutual exchange of machine readable data between individuals and organisations – an information exchange that’s extremely efficient and very rich at the same time. The opportunities of such an information exchange are breathtaking in their scope and scale. Our recent paper, ‘When Open Data meets Personal Data’ highlights the potential for organisations from this new world.