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Portal augurs well for transparency

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jul 26, 2011 03:16 PM
Data.gov.in will have meta-data, which will facilitate discovery of data and access from portals of ministries, says T Ramachandra. The article was published in the Hindu on 25 July 2011.

The unveiling of an official data access and sharing policy and the commissioning of a data portal (data.gov.in), which is on the anvil, will pave the way for digitally opening up the Central government data to the public.

"The data portal will be having meta-data [data about data], which will facilitate the discovery of the data and access from the portals of respective government departments/ministries. At present, the data policy is likely to cover the Central government and all activities funded by the Government of India," said R. Siva Kumar, CEO of National Spatial Data Infrastructure, and head of Natural Resources Data Management System, Department of Science and Technology.

Governmental data-holding organisations will prepare a negative list of non-shareable sensitive data, weighing the need to restrict public access given such considerations as security and privacy, against the obligation to share it with civil society and the scientific community. Apart from this, access to certain categories of data will be restricted.

The broad guidelines spelt out in the Right to Information Act will be followed and the list will be periodically reviewed. "All data outside the negative list will be proactively disseminated, and an oversight committee will facilitate policy implementation," said Dr. Kumar.

But does this mean that the public have to make specific requests for the unlocking of data-sets? “Data will be available through the data portal, and there will be no specific unlocking required. However, access to certain data may be through registration/authorisation,” he responded.

The sharing of such data might be tied to a pricing policy. "Pricing will be decided by the respective department/ministry. However, standardised parameters will be made available as guidelines for fixing the price," he said.

The draft of the proposed National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy the government published some time ago indicates that the departments themselves can decide whether the data belongs to the ‘open access', ‘registered access,' or ‘restricted access' categories, with the policy neither mandating nor coming up with guidelines on how to do so, said Pranesh Prakash, programme manager, Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a Bangalore-based NGO.

The CIS has recommended that the policy have the same scope as the RTI Act, and that all ‘public authorities,' as defined under the Act, be covered by it. Only the restricted categories (laid down in Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act) should be allowable for ‘restricted access.'

In a study on open government data in the Indian context, the CIS suggested that any policy be oriented towards meeting the requirements of a broad spectrum of citizenry. Specifically, sections that do not get to immediately benefit from advances in information technology. “Data mashing and private sector information products are important goals,” but the government itself should be proactive in creating the applications that show potential uses for the data.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the global body that sets web standards, has said governments, by putting their data on the Internet, facilitate greater transparency, deliver more efficient public services and encourage greater public and commercial use and re-use of government information.

Anil Bairwal, National Coordinator of the Association for Democratic Reforms, which is involved in disseminating election-related data through its website Electionwatch, says there is “huge public interest” in data, and that accessibility was of prime importance. For instance, election-related data was made available by the authorities in the PDF/image file formats. “This forces us to do a manual interpretation of every affidavit, which consumes a lot of time and energy. It would be helpful if this data was available in a portable open format via an online tool.”

Other countries have already made strides in furthering open data. Prominent examples are the U.K. government website, data.gov.uk, and the U.S. government's www.data.gov website, which is key to President Barack Obama's Open Government Initiative. 

Read the original article published in the Hindu here

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