New York City has just implemented an open government data law that is now in effect. The Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications will post standards and then existing data will be converted over the next year to comply with those standards. Within 18 months, all departments must have a compliance plan in place and all data must be open by 2018 in a common portal. We’ve talked a lot about federal data portals and a bit about city portals on the blog and podcast, but it’s interesting to hear local governments joining the movement. Open data standards are increasingly important for transparent governments, but they do create technical challenges for agencies and even industries. A lot of geospatial data is collected with proprietary license restrictions that are complicated by these open data laws. Furthermore, there can even be debate about what is ‘open’ when talking about data formats. Is Microsoft Office .docx format ‘open’? It’s based upon XML, which is freely readable and adaptable, but it’s a semi-proprietary version. It’s neither fish nor fowl, as the saying goes. Open data formats even raise questions about privacy and confidentiality. If the technical format is well documented, what’s to keep me from deconstructing a file to get private information even if its encrypted or protected?
All of this is not to say I think open data laws are bad, just that they should be well debated and thought out. I’m personally encouraged by the adoption of open data laws, particularly in large city like New York.