Open Access to Government Information

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Refers to the campaign for the openness of data collected by government, against company-centric licensing regimes which withhold access to publicly funded data to the public at large.

See also: Open Government Data and Open Public Data.


From the key essay by Peter Weiss, Borders in Cyberspace

"Many nations are embracing the concept of open and unrestricted access to public sector information -- particularly scientific, environmental, and statistical information of great public benefit. Federal information policy in the US is based on the premise that government information is a valuable national resource and that the economic benefits to society are maximized when taxpayer funded information is made available inexpensively and as widely as possible. This policy is expressed in the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 and in Office of Management and Budget Circular No. A-130, “Management of Federal Information Resources.”[1] This policy actively encourages the development of a robust private sector, offering to provide publishers with the raw content from which new information services may be created, at no more than the cost of dissemination and without copyright or other restrictions.

In other countries, particularly in Europe, publicly funded government agencies treat their information holdings as a commodity used to generate short-term revenue. They assert monopoly control on certain categories of information to recover the costs of its collection or creation. Such arrangements tend to preclude other entities from developing markets for the information or otherwise disseminating the information in the public interest.

In the US, open and unrestricted access to public sector information has resulted in the rapid growth of information intensive industries particularly in the geographic information and environmental services sectors. Similar growth has not occurred in Europe due to restrictive government information practices. As a convenient shorthand, one might label the American and European approaches as ‘open access’ and ‘cost recovery’, respectively. The cost recovery model is now being challenged on a variety of grounds." (


OECD Public Sector Information definition


"Public sector information which often has characteristics of being: dynamic and continually generated, directly generated by the public sector, associated with the functioning of the public sector (for example, meteorological data, business statistics), and readily useable in commercial applications; and,

Public content which often has characteristics of being: static (i.e. it is an established record), held by the public sector rather than being directly generated by it (cultural archives, artistic works where third–party rights may be important), not directly associated with the functioning of government, and not necessarily associated with commercial uses but having other public good purposes (culture, education).

The first category comprises public sector “knowledge” which may be the basis for information–intensive industries; these employ the raw data to produce increasingly sophisticated products. The second refers to cultural, educational and scientific public knowledge where wide public diffusion and long–term preservation (e.g. via museums, libraries, schools) are major governmental objectives." (

2006 Open Data Movement Status

By Peter Suber at

" 2006 was another big year for Open Access to data. China's Ministry of Science and Technology mandated OA to about 80% of the data generated by publicly-funded research. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research wrote a draft OA policy that would not only mandate OA to research articles but also some of the data files resulting from CIHR-funded research. The Gates Foundation required data sharing for its HIV/AIDS research. The Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data was one of several initiatives to encourage OA to avian flu data, breaking the previous, widespread national practices of hoarding it to head off agricultural boycotts or help local scientists scoop foreigners. The US National Science Foundation's Cyberinfrastructure Vision For 21st Century Discovery endorsed open access to data. The Governing Board of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility adopted a Recommendation On Open Access To Biodiversity Data, reaffirming and extending its OA statement from last year. The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity endorsed OA for biodiversity data. The NIH's OA data repository for biochemistry, PubChem, prevailed against the attempt by the American Chemical Society to defund it or scale it back, and began attracting content from commercial players like Thomson Scientific. The ALPSP and STM, which resist the growth of OA archiving, called for OA to raw data, especially data underlying published journal articles. The Guardian launched the Free Our Data campaign and pressed the UK government to provide OA to publicly-funded data, especially geospatial data. The UK Office of Fair Trading estimated that lack of OA to public data costs the country £500 million/year. The Public Geo Data launched an online petition calling for OA to EU-collected geospatial data. The Commission to the European Parliament published recommended OA to publicly-funded EU geodata. The European Parliament reached a compromise on the INSPIRE Directive (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe), providing OA to some and providing other data on a cost-recovery basis. The Universal Protein Resource became the first database to use a Creative Commons license to encourage re-use, and Science Commons wrote an FAQ on using CC licenses for databases. The SPARC discussion list on Open Data, moderated by Peter Murray-Rust, though launched in late 2005, came to life in 2006. At least two powerful tools, FortiusOne and Swivel, launched to host and analyze OA data." (

More Information

  1. See: Open Data
  2. More info at This article specifically focuses on geographic datasets in the UK.
  3. Models of Public Sector Information via Trading Funds: UK govt-commissioned report confirms freeing data creates more economic value [1]
  4. See the sites of UK-based organizations such as Free Our Data and Public Geodata.
  5. Open Government Data