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Updated: The Case For Open Data In India

Earlier: Earlier today, we received an email from a Government of India organization (we’ve been advised not to name them), asking us to remove certain posts that we had published, on the basis of data published online by them. We’ve been publishing our analysis of publicly available Government data relevant to the Internet and Telecom domains since our inception almost three years ago, and are now pro-actively seeking more data from the Government for our data journalism initiative MediaNama Charts; Our take on this unexpected take-down request:

– We do not believe that raw data published online by Government organizations, for citizens to peruse, is or should be under copyright.
– Our act of analysis and reportage on the basis of that data is not a case of copyright violation, and any move to prevent us from publishing the data or asking us to remove it impinges on our freedom to report on developments, as a media organization.
– We could have acquired the same data by filing Right To Information Act requests, and published the data, so why ask us to remove it?

We’ve responded to the department in question; many thanks to Neena Saikia for her advice.

The Case For Open Data

There is a larger issue at play here – that of the need for Open Data in India. The US and UK Governments are releasing data sets in formats that are easy to consume, re-purpose and analyse – the UK government has data.gov.uk, while the US government has data.gov. Core to this shift in approach is the belief that Open Data brings transparency to Governance, and that it is in the citizens and hence the Governments’ interest to be transparent. Developers can create data specific applications, data journalists can analyse the data for news reports and flag wasteful spending. Data is being treated as a Right – citizens can request governments to share more data, for social or commercial purposes.

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The problem we face in India is that publicly available data is difficult to find, distributed across multiple websites, limited in its scope, and more often than not, it is available online as a PDF of a scan of a printout of a report. Our partners at Visual Data are manually feeding data from such reports for MediaNama Charts, but is time consuming, and can be addressed if the Government released data in a usable format.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve filed nine Right To Information requests for data from multiple government organizations – Department of Telecom, DAVP, Income Tax Department, Indian Airlines, MTNL, BSNL and the Reserve Bank of India, and if we do get any responses, we’ll have to convert that into a usable format.

In our opinion, that shouldn’t be the case – we shouldn’t have to file RTI requests and hope for responses; Data should be open, and the Indian government needs to set up a data.gov.in.

– The President of India, in her address to both houses of Parliament in June 2009, had said that “A public data policy to place all information covering non-strategic areas in the public domain. It would help citizens to challenge the data and engage directly in governance reform” – Source
– The Administrative Reforms Commission, in its report in 2006, had said that “NIC should provide a single portal through which disclosures of all public authorities under appropriate governments could be accessed, to facilitate easy availability of information”
– Nikhil Narendran points us towards the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NSDAP)

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