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Saturday 16 November 2013

Useful Freedom of Information

Its all a bit late now, I had re-read the FOI committees in the past month but its only when people start talking about it intensely that you can really begin to understand and argue the issues.

Freedom of Information Bill 2013 as initiated

Manner of access to records
17. 1. (c) where available in such form and subject to subsection (2), with a searchable electronic version of the record,

Freedom of Information Bill 2013 - Explanatory Memorandum

Section 17.
It also provides that where records are available in such form, they may be released in electronic and searchable format.

Is 'searchable electronic version of the record' strong or clear enough? we want machine readable formats, not just a .pdf you can search.

Section 17 isn't very detailed, it doesn't seem like the PER department really addressed the area, we may have to wait a couple of years for another amendment to set this into law. Howlin keeps saying that a lot of stuff will be dealt with in the FOI code of practice, which was supposed to be published in September but the UK specifically put reusablity into the legislation.

Section 102 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 amended section 11

the public authority must, so far as reasonably practicable, provide the information to the applicant in an electronic form which is capable of re-use.

UK code of practice

iii. 15. When releasing any dataset under the Act public authorities must, as far as
reasonably practicable, provide it in an electronic form which is capable of re-use,
i.e. a re-usable format. A re-usable format is one that is machine readable, such as
Comma-separated Value (CSV) format.

Does that mean capable of republishing or re-usable? or both?

this is where we are now

countrylawcode of practice
ukcapable of re-usemachine readable

Pre-legislative Submissions

Submissions on the FOI Amendment Bill 2012

National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) Submission

In reality records, especially copies of electronic databases are often provided in PDF format, which, in turn can lead to mistakes in the analysis of the record, as the record must be restored to electronic format for proper interpretation. There is no valid reason under which a database or part thereof could not be copied and provided to a requester in electronic format as allowed for under the legislation. Indeed this simplifies the process for the granting body and cuts down on printing costs.

Submission fom Mr.Gavin Sheridan

In my experience when releasing records held in machine readable formats (e.g. spreadsheets and databases) many public bodies chose to print and scan the record as non­searchable pdfs. The effect of this is to make further use and analysis much more difficult. Whether or not this is deliberate tactic of some public bodies is in the realm of speculation but I would urge the Minister to oblige public bodies to provide records in machine readable formats suitable for reuse
This would be consistent with the intention of the Public Sector Information Directive 2003/98/EC, and with Supporting Public Service Reform ­eGovernment 2012-­2015 from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and with the planned 2013 updating of the 2003 Directive

Supporting Public Service Reform ­eGovernment 2012-­2015

Action 21
All public bodies will publish appropriate data in machine-readable formats to facilitate re-use. Initially this will include data
newly released (in reports, on websites etc.). Over time, public bodies should identify additional data that could be released as
open data. This action will enable individuals and businesses to use data in ways most helpful to them including developing
applications relevant to their own needs and interests.

Action 22
Data released as images and/or included in reports that are published in formats such as PDF should also be made available in parallel in re-useable formats.

Directive on the re-use of public sector information

Public Bodies will ensure that, where possible, data made available publically will be produced in a re-useable format

Pre-legislative Committee hearings

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2012

Mr. Gavin Sheridan: I have asked for items in open formats but have got tens of thousands of pages of PDFs, which are next to useless when one wants to display the sum of the figures. It is something as simple as that, whereas if it is in open accessible format, one can do calculations oneself on what the figures contain.

Ciaran Lynch TD (Lab) brought up concerns with manipulation

Chairman: I can see the potential for manipulation that exists when people decide to create pie charts and tables, etc., in order to present the information in a better way. Is there a danger that information which is in a fluid state as it is drawn up can be interpreted incorrectly as a result of deliberate or accidental manipulation?

Ultimately, the canonical or original version of the data is on the website. People can make their own judgements on it.

The pre-legislative Finance and Public expenditure and reform sub-committee on report compiled by Ciaran Lynch TD where it talks about machine readable formats it raises concern for 'context'.

Report on hearings in relation to the Draft General Scheme Freedom of Information Bill 2012

In the UK, Mr. Hammond advised the Members "I want to make a couple of points about issues that have come up in England with regard to criticisms of open data and the FOI regime. The first involves context. Often there are criticisms of FOI and measures to increase transparency more generally because it is felt that information is released without context and therefore people cannot effectively understand what data means.

The Joint Committee recommends that any legislation should address the provision of information in machine readable formats.

FOI Code of Practice?
The code of practice was supposed to be published in September, Howlin said at the Third Stage committee hearings that the legislation would shape the Code of Practice but it could have been published in draft form so could actually be shaped in parallel as he said it would be.

Minister announces Government approval for FOI Reforms -
July 17th, 2013

is currently being finalised and is expected to be published for public consultation in September.

It is expected that the FOI Bill will be enacted in the autumn in parallel with the introduction of the Code of Practice for FOI so that the implementation of the legislation and Ireland’s FOI regime overall meets the objectives of the legislation

Re-use and/or Re-usable

Re-use is one thing re-usable is another, need both.

Re-use of Public Sector Information

Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of public sector information, otherwise known as the PSI Directive[2][3] is an EU directive that encourages EU member states to make as much public sector information available for re-use as possible.

This seems to relate more to regularly published statistics then Freedom of Information. There is a €20/hour + 5p copying 10 CD fee.

UK code of practice

This Code of Practice for Datasets will take effect on 1 September 2013.

UK code of practice

iii. 15. When releasing any dataset under the Act public authorities must, as far as
reasonably practicable, provide it in an electronic form which is capable of re-use,
i.e. a re-usable format. A re-usable format is one that is machine readable, such as
Comma-separated Value (CSV) format.

Section 45 Code of Practice (Datasets)

It seems the UK have spent a lot more time on this then the PER dept did, writing a UK Open Government Licence, is our regulation as developed as there's is?

Could be stumbling block, but how may times have journalist had to overcome copyright in FOI's considering they've regularly published them.

Statutory Instrument S.I. No. 279 of 2005

Where a public sector body makes a document available for re-use it shall make the document available in any pre-existing format or language, including through electronic means, where possible and appropriate.

Third Stage Committee hearings November 2013
Transcript of November 12th Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform

Ciaran Lynch raises concern about manipulation again, but endorsed committee recommendation of machine readable format.

Transcript of November 13th Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform


Did more research I collected here, it seems the UK Government Licensing Framework does cover FOI and Public Sector Information re-use.

I have traced it back at least to 2009 when Gorden Brown appointted Tim Berners Lee and Nigel Shadbolt who launched data.gov.uk and then set up the Public Sector Open Government Licence, Non-commercial Licence and Charged License

the Protection of Freedoms Bill added bodies and re-use and dataset rules.

Providing a "right to datasets", impact/cost and benefit they talk of PSI and FOI being for the private sector and and not wanting to crowd out the enterprise

Freedom of Information Bill explanatory memo says
It also provides that where records are available in such form, they may be released in electronic and searchable format.

Searchable is 1 point something on the 5 star scale, a very limited form of machine readability.

olol - searchableol - reol - re - ofol - re - of - uriol - re - of - uri - ld
Web data no open licenseopen licenseopen licenseopen license/re-usableopen license/re-usable/open formatopen license/re-usable/open format/uriopen license/re-usable/open format/uri/linked data
*1.5 stars**************
on the webon the websearchablemachine readablemanipulatablelinkablelinked to other data

Tried to trace the complete history FOI of re-use in this spreadsheet seems to be dependent on key figure in driving a open data policy, Howlin says that national open data board will be set up

So there is in the UK 4 parts to rules about re-use of datasets.

Code of practice
Model publication scheme

Although it has been criticised as focusing on way to introduce fees for public sector datasets