Open data can ‘reduce freedom of information bids’ says Scottish commissioner Rosemary Agnew

Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew has claimed the open data movement could prompt a “paradigm shift” in the publication of information north of the border.

Speaking at Holyrood’s annual Freedom of Information conference in Edinburgh, Agnew suggested proactive publication could become more commonplace.

As a result, there would be less reliance upon FoI legislation to extract information from government and other public bodies.

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However, Agnew made clear that open data cannot become a substitute for FoI as she labelled a government commission set up to review the Freedom of Information Act south of the border a “threat to FoI in the UK”.   

She said: “What interests me about open data is I think it is a really good opportunity to try and bring about the start of a paradigm shift.

“Instead of focusing on FoI requests all the time, let’s start focusing more and more on the proactive side of the publication.

“Open data will perhaps raise some questions within organisations about what and how you publish that I think will benefit FOI as well.”

Scotland is jointly developing an action plan for 2016-2018 with the other UK nations under the Open Government Partnership, an international initiative that requires governments to make commitments on promoting transparency. 

Following its publication next spring, the Scottish Government will subsequently publish a more specific document on what actions it intends to take.

Agnew added: “FoI by itself will not give transparency but transparency cannot happen without FoI. That is for two reasons: it gives us a protected right to information but also it incorporates these duties of proactive publication.

“If you read the open data resource pack that was issued, what you will see is we are trying to join this up so that open data is linked very clearly to publication duties under FoISA [Freedom of Information Scotland Act].”

A new Scottish statistics website is expected to launch early next year, pulling together datasets from across the Scottish Government, National Records of Scotland and NHS Scotland totalling over one billion records.

“Our plan is to expand this further across other organisations in Scotland that publish official statistics and we hope that site can be launched in February of next year,” said Minister for Parliamentary Business Joe FitzPatrick.

Colin Marrs

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