The Obama administration in the United States is forging ahead with a policy to open up access to as much government data as possible in open formats for people to use. The website http://www.data.gov will be used to host and disseminate government created data.
What is Canada’s position on open access?
Canada on the other seems to be trying to lock government files and data away and often require a ransom to be paid to get access to it. A large proportion of data generated by government agencies require payment to access. For example, Statistics Canada create maps of postal code to census boundaries but charges $10000 to download it? Why should I have to pay to get information that Statistics Canada collected using my taxpayer dollars? Why should I have to file an access to information request (and pay $5) to get information about government dealings? Shouldn’t the default status of information created by the government be free and widely available? Do only the rich have the right to information? Not only would opening up database, documents and other available data increase transparency, it would also remove economic barriers for companies and individuals that could benefit from the amazing amount of data that could be made available to the public.
Vancouver opens its data
The city of Vancouver has adopted a similar strategy of opening up its data and information as the Obama administration in the United States. Additionally, Vancouver is also in the process of examining open source software and how it could be use at the municipal level. Their strategy has already generated some interesting ideas such a garbage reminder service.
Will Canada be left behind?
Hopefully we will see other Canadian cities, provinces and the federal governments be forward looking and follow Vancouver’s example. There is an enormous untapped potential for using data that is generated and currently locked away in vaults, behind firewall or simply in proprietary formats that require expensive software to use. Who knew that opening up GIS signals and data to free civilian use would result in such a large number of indispensable and powerful inventions that build on GIS. Just as democracy opened up the political and decision making process to all citizens, opening up information to all empowers all citizens and not just the elite royalty that can afford it.
Hopefully Canada will be able to realize its potential.