UK Government's Open Data Approach has all the subtlety of a smash-and-grab-raider
Mo Data stashed this in Data Valuation
Open data is potentially of incalculable value. The capacity to merge and manipulate information from a range of public bodies is already delivering wider benefit that ranges from better policing to environmental protection. It will lead to sharper policy making, cheaper drugs and improved health strategies. More contentiously, it could also develop into a valuable revenue stream for government. Whitehall is understandably excited about the potential. But it is approaching the whole open data project with the subtlety of a smash-and-grab raider.
It has already jeopardised its own care.data project, intended to lead to the merging of data from GP care with the anonymised data already collected from hospitals. Britain's unified national health system makes this a unique and invaluable source of information about illness, disease and treatment that could be of benefit for all manner of users. But it is not just data, it is information gathered from real people. In its grasping money-grab, the government inadequately explained its ambition and failed to engage in debate. Then it emerged that hospital episode statistics had been uploaded to the cloud in defiance of regulations. The backlash means that the whole project has been set back six months at least.
A more cautious government might be expected to absorb the lessons from the care.data debacle (go slowly, engage with critics, build confidence) before it set off on another attempt to monetise data. Instead, as we have reported, HMRC is using sleight of hand to release information about VAT to credit reference agencies who have been disguised as contractors to avoid confidentiality law. Next it wants to release aggregated personal tax information. There may be a case for openness about personal taxes, but HMRC appears to be planning to dispense with the long tradition of confidentiality with barely a word of debate.
A year ago, the government's own review into open data was published. Its first call was for a National Data Strategy, open to audit, that would set out what data should be released and in what form. Other recommendations included a focus on security, releasing anonymised data only into "safe havens" and introducing tough penalties on end users that fail to safeguard it. This may be part of the best practice HMRC insists it is committed to observing, but external experts are sceptical. Whitehall needs to take its own advice. It needs a strategy, one that explains exactly what the criteria for release of data are, sets out security safeguards that withstand challenge and introduces tough penalties for any breach that demonstrate a genuine respect for privacy.
Stashed in: Privacy does not exist.