Law change opens UK public data for re-use

Summary:Parliament has amended UK information law in an attempt to make open data easier for developers and companies to use and commercialise.The Protection of Freedoms Act, which contained amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, was passed by royal assent on Tuesday.

Parliament has amended UK information law in an attempt to make open data easier for developers and companies to use and commercialise.

The Protection of Freedoms Act, which contained amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, was passed by royal assent on Tuesday. The amendments will see public sector bodies present open data in standardised, re-usable formats.

"The information will be available in machine-readable form, using open standards, which enables its re-use and manipulation — for example, in a spreadsheet or .csv format (a common readable computer format that allows you to manipulate and transfer data easily)," a Cabinet Office spokesman told ZDNet UK in an email exchange on Wednesday. "Examples of documents not in a re-usable form include Adobe PDF documents."

Data will not be presented in raw form, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said in a statement.

"At present, the data issued by public authorities is raw and often unformed," said Maude. "Under the new Protection of Freedoms Act, datasets should be released in a form that can be used and re-used, so it will no longer be necessary to make a separate approach to public authorities to re-use a dataset.

This is a new dimension in government transparency — laying data open so that it can be more readily exploited.

– Francis Maude, MP

"This is a new dimension in government transparency — laying data open so that it can be more readily exploited by entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit organisations and others in socially useful and commercially productive ways."

Public data can be of varying quality, the National Audit Office warned in a report in April.

"Many data releases have no accompanying statement as to their quality or reliability – running the risk of misleading potential users," said the report. "The Government should develop a simple protocol for describing data sources, control procedures and known limitations."

Maude is to lead a Data Strategy Board with science minister David Willetts to advise departments on the public data they can release.

Topics: Security

About

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com, writing about all manner of security and open-source issues.Tom had various jobs after leaving university, including working for a company that hired out computers as props for films and television, and a role turning the entire back catalogue of a publisher into e-books.Tom eventually found tha... Full Bio

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