Responses to the Cabinet Office’s Open Data plans have questioned whether government IT systems and staff can deliver an enhanced “right to data.”
The Making Open Data Real consultation, published last August, is part of the government’s drive to publish more data across the public sector and to stimulate a market for its use.
It seeks to create both a ‘pull’ effect – through the enhanced right to data – and a ‘push’ effect – by putting a “presumption of publication” on data providers.
In the area of health, it proposes giving patients online access to medical records. It also proposes linking healthcare datasets from GP practices with hospital data and making the information available to researchers and commercial companies.
The plans were branded the “death of privacy” by data watchdog. But in a summary of responses to its plans the Cabinet Office insists there is “widespread support for transparency and open data.”
Despite this, it acknowledges there were “divergent views on how ‘Open Government’ might be realised.”
It also says that doubts were raised about the capacity of existing government IT systems to deliver on the open data agenda and about whether public bodies have the necessary skills-based to do the work.
“Many respondents questioned the capability of some public bodies, particularly smaller organisations, to deliver an enhanced right to data when resources are already stretched,” the summary says.
“A number of respondents argued a change in ethos in IT delivery at the strategic level is required within government departments if an enhanced right to data is to be realised.”
Respondents recommended that the government should; incorporate open data standards into future ICT contracts, publish clear guidelines setting out future expectations, and put the Information Commissioner’s Office in charge of compliance.
“It was not uncommon for respondents to suggest the likely changes required to existing IT systems and ICT contracts would present government with an opportunity to revisit its tendering process, ensuring a more competitive and/or effective service in the future,” the summary of responses says.
A significant number of respondents were also concerned about the potential for open data to have a negative impact on confidentiality and privacy.
“There was a sense that the potential for deanonymisation is an issue which government is yet to address and one that will become more pressing as the open data agenda evolves,” it says.
Respondents said data should be accessed through “meaningful data portals” and extending and enhancing data.gov.uk was seen by many as the best way to do this.
“On the issue of charging there was a consensus that data should be available for free and that government should accept open data will pose new cost implications,” the summary says.
Others argued that commercial organisations should be charged a fee for access. ‘Making Open Data Real’ attracted 247 written responses – of which 10% were from health organisations – and 217 online comments.