Open Data and Transparency: A Paradigm Shift
Informatica e Diritto, No. 1-2, pp. 305-320, 2011
16 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2012
Date Written: September 15, 2011
What is the likely impact of the Open Data System on the notion of open government? The question of a general nature, in the Italian context has a specific importance, because of the limited spectrum of enforceability of the right of access to the information held by public bodies. The fact that the right of access document held by public bodies is granted only to those citizens who are able to prove that the requested document is useful (even essential) for the protection of their interests (as is statued and emphasized by the Chapter V of the Act of Law n. 241/1990), necessarily involves a limited role for this institution in terms of promoting transparency. Consequently, the Italian approach to transparency passes almost exclusively through the dissemination of information via the web. In the last decade, a growing number of legislative provisions required the government to spread through the respective websites of sets of information, with particular reference to the data about the organization and administration. The combination of these features gives rise to a 'transparency without (right to) access', where public power (through law binding provision) determines not only the amount of transparency, but also its purpose (ie the control of the efficiency and the impartiality of public bodies action: cf. the definition of transparency made by art. 4, co. 7 of the Act of Law n. 15/2009). A notion of transparency that is functional to activation and consolidation of Government accountability, but still placed in view of the bipolar paradigm (administration / citizen).
If implemented, the Open Data System will lead to a radical change. On the one hand, the reuse of information held by public bodies exceed the market-oriented approach of the holders of public information (see EU Directive 98/2003 and Legislative Decree no. No. 36/2006) to arrive at a broad recognition of a "right to re-use of public data" (as included in the public domain). Open data would allow the different actors involved in the re-use to choose and determine which issue 'shed light', what policies to follow, what outputs highlight. Even more, in many cases the transparency will end (even) as the accidental, unexpected and unplanned by-product of services intended for other purposes (including commercial). This re-user driven and unplanned transparency is not so much propose as an alternative, but rather in terms of complementarity with the transparency institutionally 'delivered' by the public authorities. This dynamic will lead to a significant redeployment of roles and functions (in terms of distribution of power): therefore, the opening of new spaces of freedom (the reuse of public data, in this case) will also bring new risks (manipulation, of misuse). However, the way forward appears to careful maintenance of the system, in order to minimize side effects (the so called 'dark side' of Open Data), to fully exploit the opportunities offered by the full development of the knowledge society.
Keywords: open data, transparency, accountability, right to access information, re-use
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