July 2008 past UK PM, Gordon Brown, became embroiled in a debate concerning data sharing rules after a civil service department lost data which was claimed to be hidden under an “old pals” regulatory system. In response the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas (succeeded by Christopher Graham in June 2009), released a report lobbying for increased transparency between Government, Private Companies and Councils. This is in line with Tony Blair’s speech to the UK e-Summit which outlined how transparency could create a new relationship between citizens and the state. A form of Institutional transparency which declares that the public have a right to know how their personal data is being utilised but with an element of control as outlined through privacy laws. Such an act by the state is intended to gain public trust but will require responsibility on institutions part to lower the risk of further lost data.
Far from a system of Government being viewed under a Machiavellian approach to data usage, it should open to the public. Yet this element of control is a deceit considering the growth of transparency which has been occurring for the last 15 years. Privacy rules only negotiate within matters of law and the government’s approach towards overt transparency is undermined by a radical transparency which is already occurring due to the growth of symmetrical communication online.
The launch of data.gov.uk in 2010 is designed to follow the principles set out by Richard Thomas allowing for non-personal factual data to be made available to the public. Eventually the UK Government will openly share this public data not only for central government but also across the public sector.
Yet transparency is not just concerned with the release of information but from the context it once originated from. Communication on the internet exists as a series of sharing (Re-Tweet, Google+ Share, Facebook Share, etc). Eventually context can be lost behind data due to a Web 2.0 form of Chinese whispers. Whilst the internet across multiple platforms may act as a middle man for communication it does not retain the sincerity or respect that may come from the connotations from where the source of the data appeared from.
Social Media is associated with the cult of the amateur, over simplifications can create inaccurate interpretations. So the government embracing institutional transparency is not only concerned with allowing public data to be freely available but to monitor the sources of where the data is being communicated from. Should a blog like mine have the authority to explain the data behind the Digital Economy Act or should that be left to BBC definitions?
Rather than privacy rules being put in place to act as a rule to control institutional transparency the Government should require guidance for how data should be interpreted once it reaches the intermediary sources (such as Journalists & Bloggers). Even this won’t refrain from misinterpretation but knowing the source context behind public data will assist to reserve data integrity.