Microsoft wants the Australian government to close loopholes in proposed data sharing-and-release legislation that it believes could be used to shut down or limit access to data without explanation.
The software giant used a submission [pdf] to a Prime Minister & Cabinet-led consultation to outline concerns that data could be too easily withheld or not offered in the first place, despite assertions that “much of the Australian government’s data is not personal or sensitive”.
Microsoft suggested that Australian laws should, in part, mimic the EU’s reuse of public sector information directive, which requires agencies to explain why they deny access to data.
“We note that the proposed process for sharing data does not appear to require Commonwealth data custodians to provide an explanation either when denying a data access request, or if they decide not to provide open access to data in the first instance,” Microsoft said.
“[We] suggest that the bill require data custodians to provide such an explanation.
“Doing so has a range of benefits in addition to promoting public trust in the program; for example, transparency can make potential users aware of relevant datasets in the Commonwealth’s possession, ensure that Commonwealth data controllers make data accessible unless there is a material reason not to, and may even provide enough information to allow requestors to alter their requests to address the data custodian’s concerns.”
Microsoft also said it is unclear if data custodians will be required to “consider options beyond ‘release’ or ‘do not release’ when evaluating whether to provide access to data, either at the outset or in response to a data request.”
The vendor said it could see instances where data could be treated in some way - “de-identified, culled, or released to users under conditions that maintain individuals’ privacy” - to allow it to be released.
Microsoft said it wanted to avoid situations where data was withheld - and value lost - simply because it was not immediately available in a usable format.
In addition, Microsoft asked the law text to clarify the “obligations” of public data custodians, making it clear that they should be releasing as much data as possible, regardless of whether someone has put in a request for it or not.
“Absent such an affirmative duty of access, large swaths of Commonwealth data that are entirely appropriate for access or reuse might remain hidden away and inaccessible - a result that would undermine the goals that the government seeks to achieve,” Microsoft said.
Microsoft also wanted the legislation to make clear that private sector use of government data was a legitimate use for it.
The vendor said the draft law, as it stands, appears to favour use of data for other government or research purposes only.
In addition, Microsoft sought clarity on what - if any - licensing restrictions there might be when sucking in government data sets for commercial purposes, and around how it might achieve “trusted” status with the government for accessing all data sets.
Microsoft did not reveal exactly what purposes and datasets it had in mind from an Australian perspective.
However, large government data reserves could be attractive to hyperscale operators like Microsoft as a means of training and validating advanced analytics and deep learning models.