Consider the following not-so-hypothetical situation:

A state or city government has, for many years now, released a certain data set in various "old school" formats, such as a printed book or microfiche or microfilm, and may even be providing updates in those old formats from time to time. They clearly already have a digitized, searchable version of this same data set from which the prints are routinely made, and which they use internally for look-ups of certain records. There are no known privacy reasons why this data set cannot be further released to the public.

Under President Obama's new May 2013 directive on open data...


...isn't it now incumbent upon the city or state to release this data set to a private citizen or constituent, if requested? And to do so in a timely manner?

If the city or state refuses or stonewalls, or gives purposely misleading e-mail answers as to the release of this data set, what are the recourses available to a private citizen or constituent, to force compliance?

To whom can we complain if the data remains locked up?

  • Have you tried to contact this state or city? Have you tried a FOIA request? There's no law mandating that the data be open... This also seems more of a discussion topic than a Q&A.
    – Kermit
    Jul 12, 2013 at 15:39
  • Yes, I have contacted the state and the city (yep, this question applies to multiple real-world situations!) through their Socrata portals, e-mail, and even Twitter. What few answers have come back from them about open data rules (as opposed to best practices) have been confusing or misleading. I have not yet filed FOIA requests, although that may be next. Finally, there is a new "open data policy" from FedGov (see the PDF listed in the link above), but it's not clear that this has the force of law behind it, nor how a Federal policy interacts with state/city regulations, if at all.
    – Asparagirl
    Jul 12, 2013 at 17:07
  • 2
    It's my impression that the open data push is at the federal level. The states have yet to implement their own open data policies. I think your best bet would be to file a FOIA request.
    – Kermit
    Jul 12, 2013 at 17:18
  • Four years later, I just wanted to check in here and say that this is indeed what I did. I sued two different New York City agencies twice in the past three years, filing "Article 78" petitions under the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). I won settlements and my records both times, and won my attorneys fees the second time. All the records I won have been released back to the public as free open data. And earlier this year, I turned my little project into a real 501(c)(3) non-profit: www.ReclaimTheRecords.org
    – Asparagirl
    Aug 25, 2017 at 4:24

2 Answers 2


The Open Data Policy and Executive Order are for federal datasets and does not mandate the same for state or local governments, although such policies does influence more local policies.

See http://www.data.gov/opendatasites for a large (but not comprehensive) listing of Open Data sites at the international, state and local levels.

For state-level open government or 'sunshine' laws, recommend http://www.rcfp.org/open-government-guide.


The Urban Institute published a good guide for those seeking data from local sources. Some of the information pertains to organizations seeking data (rather than individuals), but some of this has relevance to anyone. http://www.neighborhoodindicators.org/library/guides/nnip-lessons-local-data-sharing

In building relationships with others, it often can be a big help to ask elected officials or their staff to make the data request on your behalf. Their requests often make it to the top of the pile of the agency with the data, and are hard to deny. If you go this route, do what you can to get them enthused about your issue or project.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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