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

Sometimes a government official won't release data because she doesn't see what the utility is. Variants include:

  • There’s no clear use for {insert specific type of data here}
  • I don't know what you could possibly need that for
  • How would someone even use that kind of data?
  • We need more proven results before we can open data
  • The old system works
  • We don’t want to have you (academic researcher) doing research for research sake. We want your research to benefit us directly, otherwise we don’t want to give you our data.

How should I respond?

  • @JeanneHolm, could you make this community owned?
    – fgregg
    Sep 9, 2013 at 14:42
  • done ... you should be able to edit, and then look for 'community wiki' checkbox under the textarea.
    – Joe
    Sep 11, 2013 at 16:25

3 Answers 3


The first three I'd lump together ... the others, I'm not so sure. For the first three, I'd ask them:

  • Why did you collect the data?
  • If the data has no use, why do you keep it?
  • What do you use the data for?

The next two require more information ... they might be fiscal in nature, and in today's budget situations, it's quite likely that departments are already short-staffed; changing how they do things might have significant costs, especially when the data is actually in high demand.

The last one ... well, if it's a federal agency, I'd be inclined to bring up FOIA. If it's a state agency, I'd bring up the equivalent law, if it exists. I know a few people who argue against opening up the data because they've had to deal with too many crackpots who want to discuss the data and/or refute it without actually understanding what the data is. (it's amazing how many times you can explain compression artifacts to people, and they still insist that it's UFOs, and that you're just trying to cover it up)

  • Someone else will come up with the best use for your data.
  • Because the public paid for the data it should have access to it.
  • The two big drivers for opening up government data in general are:
    1. Transparency
    2. Build businesses

It is useful to understand there are only a few defensible reasons to not open data, which are restricted to things like:

  • government uses but doesn't actually own the data
  • national security
  • it contains personally identifiable information

and it is also debatable for cases when data is sold by government


In addition to Joe's answers, I would add that open government is now mature enough that you might be able to find examples of people using the same kind of data that comes from other cities or agencies.

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