Yesterday afternoon I headed down to London to attend an event discussing public access to information, put on by ISKO-UK and TiPS. I was initially unsure if to attend the talk, hosted at UCL, as it meant a day away from studying and incurring an additional expense via a train journey (and a bus from my house to get to the train station, now £5.20! Extortion!).
Despite my reservations though, I am glad I went, and it turned out to be a great talk. If all of their events are of a similar quality I would definitely reccomend them. The event consisted of four speakers and a panel session at the end. It was free to attend for students and the topic linked into many modules that are often covered on postgraduate courses. The speakers were all engaging and entertaining- I’d reccommend keeping an eye out on the ISKO-UK and TiPS sites incase the PowerPoint slides are put up. The titles from the individual presentations are available on the ISKO-UK site. In the mean time, I thought I would try and pick out a few things that I found interesting. I have tried to be quite selective from my notes as they are rather volumous in nature, so hopefully the bits that I have picked out will be of interest to others too.
The first talk was given by Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner. Christopher is a Corporation Sole, similar to the registrar of the Public Lending Right. It seems something to do with librarianship and information attracts Corporation Soles as it was not a concept I had come across before the start of my MA, and now I know of two. The Information Commissioner representing both himself and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) discussed the difficulties of trying to balance the competing interests of the ‘right to know’ against the ‘right to privacy’. The need for a ‘privacy commissioner’ against the role of the ICO was discussed, but ultimately dismissed as missing the point of larger issues at hand. Another commissioner would not help to decide who ultimately decided the balance and interplay between the two interests of privacy and freedom of information. Mr Graham stressed that where correctly implemented, the Data Protection Act works well. A need to proactively disclose information was a theme that ran through all of the presentations, with the viewpoint that publishing data sets can enable mash-ups to take place. For this to take place, data needs to be produced in a re-usable format. Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a driver for publishing information and showing value for money was also discussed. The ICO is on Twitter @ICOnews.
The second presenter was Carol Tullo from the National Archive. The key point that I picked up on from the presentation was the introduction of standards for releasing datasets. These will help to transform how information is used, and released. By attempting to provide one standard for the re-use of data, the public will have more confidence in what they are able to do with it, encouraging an increasing amount of mash-ups and such like. It is hoped that this will partly be achieved by the adoption of an ‘Open Government License‘, produced by the National Archives. Checks and balances adopted in licenses can be maintained with greater ease where only one license is in use, which in turn will further the public’s confidence to adapt and use the data. The Protection of Freedoms Bill was also mentioned- Clause 92 is to be updated to improve and reflect these changes and aid advancements for the release and re-use of data sets by public authorities. Also of interest, was the creation of a central agency, potentially arriving in Autumn 2011 of a ‘Public Data Corporation’, responsible for licensing and information inventories.
Something that was mentioned by Ms Tullo that I feel deserves a seperate paragraph was a way of ranking standards of data created by Tim Berners-Lee in 2009. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a full reference for it, but hopefully a good search for it should yield plenty of results. It ranges as follows:
1 Star – Data published on the web in any format
2 Stars – Structured data
3 Stars – Data in open standard formats
4 Stars – Data with the use of a URL to identify it’s location
5 Stars – Data that is linked to others and collaborates with it accordingly
Following Ms Tullo was Professor Charles Oppenheim, who discussed problems with UK information law. The presentation was deliberatly provocative, so the below may not represent his actual views. One of the main concerns flagged up was regarding the 8th principle of the Data Protection Act (DPA) and the prevention of information transfers to other countries where adequate laws for data protection are not present. The USA was highlighted as an example where the laws are not deemed fit- the PATRIOT Act introduced following 9/11 was mentioned. The PATRIOT Act overrides the data protection act, by allowing the investigation of any data that is deemed to hold information relating to terrorist activity, and the owner of the data need not necessarily be informed. The problems relating to this were then expanded to problems relating to Cloud Computing and the location of data on servers. Other issues discussed included the classification of what was defined as ‘sensitive data’, and problems with qualified exemptions from the FOIA.
The final speaker was Paul Davidson from Sedgemoor District Council. He appeared in his role as Chief Information Officer and discussed the work he does as part of the Local e-Government Standards Body (LeGSB). Themes for e-standards and linked data were strongly focussed on throughout the presentation. Pillars for maintaining e-standards were shown as below:
What is the information?
- semantics and meanings
- quality (making sure the user is confident that they can re-use the data)
Why is it being exchanged?
- Usage rights, can it be reused?
How is it exchanged?
- Syntax (format of the information)
- Authentification (who is using it?)
- Transportation (how to move the information around)
- Information Governance and Assurance (how to protect the data, as well as encourage its use)
Applications for the above criteria were then explained, as were the differences between public and private data, the result being that it is far easier to apply the standards to public data.
The Open Government License and guidelines were also mentioned, explaining that they should encourage users to take data away and make mash-ups. This is due to the alternative formats that data is now being published in, whereas previously information was often produced in one restricted, predefined format.
The next ISKO-UK event is on Facets of Knowledge Organisation in July.