Australian Government data to be 'open by default'

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Australian Government data to be 'open by default'
Professor John McMillan, Australian Information Commissioner

But new rules are still not binding on agencies.

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Australia's Information Commissioner, John McMillan, will today unveil eight new rules for Federal agencies to adhere to when considering the publication of government data.

Known as the Principles on open public sector information, the rules promote the default position that the public should have open access to government information.

“These principles set out the central values of open public sector information – that it be freely available, easily discoverable, understandable, machine-readable and reusable,” McMillan said.

Based on an earlier set of ten draft principles issued in November last year, the riules are not binding in law and there are few sanctions for non-compliance.

“We have received comments that the Principles should have been more prescriptive and robust. The major reason we did not do that is because we are the newest agency in a large field,” McMillan told iTnews.

One of McMillan's few enforcement options will be via the Freedom of Information Act, under which his office is required to monitor how each agency responds to requirements to publish information. (See the Information Publication Scheme which commenced on 1 May, 2011.)

“This provides an excellent opportunity to ask them whether they are aware of observing these standards,” he said.

McMillan said agency cooperation with IPS requirements had been "excellent."

His office’s initial survey of 30 agencies revealed that 29 had adopted the OAIC template.

“I expect we’ll get the same cooperation with these principles,” McMillan said.

McMillan said he anticipates a gradual transformation over the next few months as his office takes a lead role in promoting open and reusable public sector information.

Though the majority of comments on the earlier draft were from the Federal and State public sector agencies, Google, AIIA and members of the public offered substantive comments on various aspects.

“We considered them all and they are strongly reflected in the style of the new principles,” McMillan said.

“Nobody questioned the thrust of the principles. Most of the discussion was about definition and structure.”

McMillan said the principle which caused the most concern was the first one – that open access to information should be the default position.

“There was a lot of debate about the breadth of the concept of public sector information and whether phrases like machine-readable was the best one,” he said.

“Also we had phrases such as “unless there were compelling reasons to the contrary, the information should be open."

McMillan tightened these up by moving that detail to the other principles.

“We used that first principle to explain a little more clearly that we are using publication as an important means of achieving open government.”

The principles in brief:

  1. Open access to information  – a default position,
  2. Engaging the community,
  3. Effective information governance,
  4. Robust information asset management,
  5. Discoverable and useable information,
  6. Clear reuse rights,
  7. Appropriate charging for access, 
  8. Transparent enquiry and complaints processes.

Check out the the Principles in Full

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