Budget 2017: Data61 to be expanded

Additional funding will be given to the CSIRO to expand Data61's role to develop a data integration platform for law enforcement to use to 'detect, prevent, and disrupt illicit activities'.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government has announced that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will be provided with additional funding in order to expand the role of Data61, which it labelled "Australia's leading digital research network".

"This funding will deliver a data integration platform that supports law-enforcement and regulatory agencies to better detect, prevent, and disrupt illicit activities within Australia and overseas," the government said in its Budget 2017-18.

While the government did not say how much funding would be given to the CSIRO, the organisation falls under the "general research" category alongside the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the Department of Education and Training, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and the Australian Research Council.

This category will be given an estimated total of AU$2.77 billion in 2016-17, AU$2.83 billion in 2017-18, AU$2.93 billion in 2018-18, AU$3.02 billion in 2019-20, and AU$3.05 billion in 2020-21 under the government's Federal Budget, with the increase in spending "primarily due to funding provided for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda".

Data61, formed as a result of a merger between the digital productivity arm of the CSIRO and National ICT Australia (NICTA), originally received AU$75 million under Turnbull's innovation fund to spend on improving cybersecurity and developing new architectures to protect datasets; data analytics to connect separate government datasets and publicly release them; establishing a Data Research Network to connect businesses with data researchers; and delivering training in data analytics to improve data literacy in Australian businesses.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has similarly tasked Data61 with building "world-leading" data infrastructure last year, with the organisation in March announcing that it was looking to make government data more accessible to all Australians including by revamping data.gov.au and nationalmap.gov.au, and working on the creation of government dashboards.

"Governments are releasing more and more data and it enables all sorts of great stuff -- mainly better transparency and accountability across government. It is a good thing, but it also enables new economic possibilities, new businesses -- stuff we haven't dreamed of yet," Cam Grant, Data61 senior user experience designer, said in March.

"Along with that, it creates a lot of interesting challenges, privacy being one of the biggest challenges, but also just the challenge of infrastructure, how are we going to get all this data out there. If there are endless streams of data, how do we find the right data?"

The federal government also used the Budget 2017-18 to reaffirm its commitment to such open data, with one of its projects to see it "transform the analysis of public data to improve policy and program implementation and expenditure" by providing access to open government data via a single entry point.

This will reduce duplication and increase efficiency in using such data, the government said.

"Through enhanced data analytics, the government will be able to design better-targeted and more effective services in education, social services, health, and aged care," the government said in the Budget.

The government had last year said open government data could generate up to AU$25 billion per year, with the research "a key focus" of the federal government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in December 2015.

According to Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor, Australia is now ranked equal first in the Global Open Data Index as of last week.

"Data was one of the earliest success stories of this government as we increased the 500 datasets available in 2013 to more than 20,000 datasets currently -- and this has delivered real benefits in innovation," Taylor said last week.

"For example, the Geo-coded National Address File, which was released by the government in February 2016, has been used for a wide range of business and operational purposes, such as infrastructure planning, business planning and analysis, logistics and service planning, emergency and disaster response.

"Another example is the National Map, which allows us to better understand datasets for creating new businesses and applications."

When announcing the innovation package, Turnbull committed to making all non-sensitive government data open by default, with the Australian Geocoded National Address File (G-NAF) and Administrative Boundaries datasets.

Under the Australian Government Public Data Policy Statement [PDF], government entities are by default permitted to publish "appropriately anonymised" data. The criminalisation of those who re-identify such de-identified data was earlier this year legislated when laws passed through the Australian Senate.

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