Data released for transparency does not make it open

Below is my comment to Sean Vitka’s piece “How to protect privacy when releasing open data” on the Sunlight Foundation website here.


Hi Sean, I’m sorry but the anecdote you start from breaks the consistency of your entire post, that would be otherwise interesting.

Email communications between individuals are private and can never be considered suitable for distribution without a consensual agreement between the parties (you may call it “licensing”). Jeb Bush’s mistake was not that he did not redact or anonymised the email messages, but that he distributed them without having the right to do so in the first place.

It is important to make this distinction as you want to educate your readers about open data. That was never an open data story: it was one about the violation of personal data as a goofy unintended side-effect of showing off transparency.

Moreover, the content that was published was never open data: the footer of the website where the emails are published says “© 2015. All rights reserved”. That’s not open. That’s not more open than any website that is not behind a paywall: the fact that one can read something for free does not make it open .

People are already confused enough and are still learning to distinguish open data from free data from public domain data from personal data from shared data. By reading your post I wonder if you’re not a little confused yourself. I suggest you find a different and suitable story to start your post with, that would give more robustness to your message.