Exciting times for Open Data: Boris Johnson unveils London Datastore

7 01 2010

The Open Data movement in Britain is gathering pace. Yesterday saw the announcement of London Mayor Boris Johnson’s London Datastore, and Tim Berners-Lee’s data.gov.uk is currently in private beta testing phase. Johnson’s initiative follows on the tailcoats of the successful DataSF and Chicago Data Store.

Interesting from a policy perspective was Johnson’s justification for the move:

“I firmly believe that access to information should not just be the preserve of institutions and a limited elite. Data belongs to the people particularly that held by the public sector and getting hold of it should not involve a complex routine of jumping through a series of ever decreasing hoops.”

The philosophical and democratic arguments for free data are being cited with more force by politicians, notwithstanding the cost and efficiency potentials. This is an important distinction: data is a right, not a privilege. The Freedom of Information Act has been weak in its assertion of this principle, only giving access to what already exist if it is specifically requested. The onus should be on the state to provide a record of its data in a way that suits the people, not the state.