U.S. Orders More Usability for Government Data; Inventory

10 May 2013

President Barrack Obama May 9 issued an Executive Order and a Policy Directive requiring that data generated going forward by the government be made available in open, machine-readable formats.

Agencies also must create and maintain an “enterprise data inventory” that accounts for datasets used in the agency’s information systems” and indicates which are available to the public.

“The move will make troves of previously inaccessible or unmanageable data easily available to entrepreneurs, researchers, and others who can use those files to generate new products and services, build businesses, and create jobs,” according to an announcement.

Positive, But

The move was met with general praise, tinged with some skepticism.

The Sunlight Foundation in a blog post particularly liked the requirement to produce an inventory of datasets. but added, “While one wants to believe in the efficacy of the order and to affirm the good faith intentions behind it, it is necessary to recognize how remote it is from current practice, particularly in the contentious realm of national security information.”

Open The Government wrote, “These are important steps to providing the public with the information needed to help the government identify “high-value” data sets for release – including those the government may not think should be made publicly available.”

But the group also noted “some troubling exclusions.” The order does not apply to National Security Systems, and the omission of a definition of “information system” and a shortened definition of “data” were also noted. Also of concern was an indication that data might be withheld based on the “mosaic effect” — when the information in an individual dataset, in isolation, may not pose a risk of identifying an individual (or threatening some other important interest such as security), but when combined with other available information, could pose such risk.

“The concept of the mosaic of information dates back to the Reagan Administration and John Poindexter; we have been struggling against its overuse and abuse since that time,” Open the Government said.

Other Announcements

The White House also said there is more to come, including new services at Data.gov, the central hub for open government data. These will include “improved visualization, mapping tools, better context to help locate and understand these data, and robust Application Programming Interface (API) access for developers.”

In addition, the U Chief Information Officer and the Chief Technology Officer “are releasing free, open source tools on Github, a site that allows communities of developers to collaboratively develop solutions.”

As part of the Administration’s Digital Government Strategy and Open Data Initiatives,  newly available or improved data sets were released.

“In June, federal agencies will participate in the fourth annual Health Datapalooza, hosted by the nonprofit Health Data Consortium, which will bring together more than 1,800 entrepreneurs, innovators, clinicians, patient advocates, and policymakers for information sessions, presentations, and “code-a-thons” focused on how the power of data can be harnessed to help save lives and improve healthcare for all Americans.”

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