4

From the Sunlight Foundations's list of Reasons (Not) to Release Data.

Sometimes governments say they won't release data because no one outside government is interested in the data. Variants of this include:

  • There is a lack of public interest
  • There are few public requests for data to be open/for data in general
  • Government is boring
  • We don’t have community support
  • We don’t have civic hackers

How should I respond to this kind of excuse?

  • I agree with Joe. @AlishaGreen are the the first few objections about general opposition to opening data or an objection to a particular data set? – fgregg Sep 11 '13 at 19:06
2

Boringness of data sets is not a legal reason to withhold data.

The only thing that matters is: 1) does your state/country have a public records disclosure law? and 2) What exemptions does it have for not disclosing? i.e. most states exempt agencies from disclosing records about undercover police officers and certain kinds of health records.

And 3) of course, does the government actually collect the data that you are asking for?

If so, then they can be compelled to send you the data, as per the state's regulations. If the government doesn't actually collect that data, then no, they don't have to collect it for you. Also, most state laws say that an agency does not have to provide new types of records or queries to you, if those queries aren't generated as part of the government's business.

For example, an agency may fight against a request that asks for pension amounts, aggregated by year/department, if they never conduct that aggregation themselves.

1

Just because I'm known for my snarkiness, if someone tried giving me the 'government is boring' excuse, I'd likely:

  • Ask them if it's so boring why they didn't find a more interesting job.

Or, if I had some time to kill, and wasn't looking to piss them off immediately:

  • Ask them to tell me about what they did, and try to find points at which they seemed to express excitement, and ask them to go into more detail. Once they told you want the interesting bits are, use that to refute their boring claim.

...

The first two, and the last two, I see as completely different issues.

For the first two, I'd ask:

  • Who knows you have this information? (if no one knows, of course no one's asking about it).

  • If you're advertising it, have you specified what the procedures are or a contact for people who want access to it?

...

The last two are a slightly different chicken and egg problem -- if you don't give the community what they need (the data), you're not going to get community support. Think of it like gardening -- if you don't plant anything, you can't expect anything to grow. Something might grow, if it's particularly tenacious (ie, weeds), but you can't expect the plants you want (ie, the community / civic hackers) to grow without you preparing the beds & sowing the seeds.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.