Government should open up data for citizen-built services

Tools

The federal government should make its data available to the public so citizens can use the data to address their own needs and concerns, said panelists at a recent ACT-IAC event.

In a panel discussion last Thursday, Stephen Buckner, the director for new media and promotions at the Census Bureau, said that most data collected by federal agencies is public data and should be owned by the public once any personal information is removed and privacy is secured.

Buckner said that data should be published in APIs and turned over because "it's not what we can do with the information, it's what the public can do with the information. There is no way the government can develop every single web application or every single format of the data that the public wants or needs."

Daniel Schuman, policy counsel and a director at the Sunlight Foundation, said agencies benefit from public use because citizens have a different perspective. They have already identified times when "the way information is being recorded by different parts of the government, even when it's the same information, doesn't line up," said Schuman.

Shawn Kingsberry, CIO at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, said agencies also see successful new tools created by opening up APIs to the public. His agency found help creating transparency tools by hosting an open forum and asking citizens and industry how they would solve problems.

The panelists all said that public use of government data can cause problems when it is misrepresented. Opening up APIs has already led to some services that gives false information about health and safety as well as make incorrect ties between federal money and industry groups, they said.

"At some point there's got to be some governance of this," said Kingsberry.

Buckner agreed and said privacy must be protected even across these third-party services. Once the Census or another agency loses private information, even if it is done through an outside service, the agency is the one that will lose public trust and credibility, he said.

The panel was unsure exactly how this governance would be structured.

For more:
see the event page for the ACT-IAC Executive Management Series on Mobility

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