Thoughts on “Government Data and the Invisible Hand”

In “Government Data and the Invisible Hand”, Robinson et. Al outline the process and advantages for the American Government to grant open online access to their data, which would provide the ability for third-party organizations to broaden data accessibility and contribute themselves by making use of them. Furthermore, it is argued that the private sector is “better suited to deliver government information to citizens” if the data is easy to parse through, given their ability to quickly change the tools based on the public needs as well as their position as outsiders.

If we’re thinking about geospatial data in this context, an important question remains after reading this article, which specified that public data should be provided by the government “in the highest detail available”: wouldn’t there be privacy concerns in that regard? There could be occurrences where the highest detail available for a dataset compromises the identity of individuals or groups if the spatial scale is fine enough. There would still be a privacy concern with non-geospatial data, as some sensitive information about individuals would have to be withheld from the public, meaning that a censorship would have to be done in order to preserve every citizens’ privacy. Alternatively, different political administrations could differ in what they deem acceptable and unacceptable for public access based on their own political positions. Finding a perfect balance between data accessibility and minimizing security concerns for the population is an extremely difficult challenge, as each and every one could have a different view. These differing subjective views could drastically affect the ability of private actors to make use of the data, especially if the administration has a veto in terms of what should or should not be publicly accessible.

All in all, I personally think that it is the government’s responsibility to first determine what constitutes sensitive data, as preserving privacy is of utmost importance. Following that, making all its non-sensitive data easily available online and promoting their use would go a long way to further our understanding of studied phenomenons using the data, but also improving society’s trust in government given a higher level of transparency.

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