UK Government Opens Up €“ But Enough?

Here's some interesting news:

Minister for Digital Engagement Tom Watson today outlined the next steps in the Government's Power of Information programme.

In a speech to the NESTA / UNESCO Public Service Media 2009 Conference the Minister announced plans for an overhaul of Crown Copyright rules that will make it easier for citizens to re-use Government information, and new standards that will improve the quality of official websites.

Mr Watson said:

“Just over a year ago ‘Power of Information’ was simply a 15-page document. Today it's an integral part of the way the Government does business. We'll be formally responding to the PoI Taskforce's excellent report shortly, but I'm delighted to say that some of their recommendations are already taking form.

“They say information is power, but only distributed information is truly empowering. That's why the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) [External website] has looked again at the restrictions of Crown Copyright, and now a licence will automatically be granted to anyone wanting to use the information rather than having to apply beforehand. This will makes things easier for the kind of innovative individuals who entered Show Us a Better Way to access the data they need to create brilliant new applications. OPSI has also shown how Government can publish in a ‘web-friendly’ way rather than just as PDFs, and I want to see this approach rolled out across Government.

“The Central Office of Information [External website] has done outstanding work in reducing the number of websites and making those that are left more accessible. Today I'm pleased to announce that COI is launching new standards on quality to make Government sites as effective and easy to use as possible.”

Of course, the key issue here is what the licence will be, and what it will let people do. For example, I can't help fearing that making it “easier for citizens to re-use Government information” means that it will be for non-commecial use only, which would miss the point about what open data can do for business – and hence the economy.

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