At the beginning of this year, President Trump signed into law the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act, requiring that nonsensitive government data be made available in machine-readable, open formats by default.
As researchers who study data governance and cyber law, we are excited by the possibilities of the new act. But much effort is needed to fill in missing details – especially since these data can be used in unpredictable or unintended ways.
The federal government would benefit from considering lessons learned from open government activities in other countries and at state and local levels.
Cracking the door toward open data
Open government is the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight. The doctrine has drawn increased attention in recent years, as a growing list of nations agree to participate in a global voluntary commitment towards democratic reforms, via the Open Government Partnership initiative.
America was one of the Open Government Partnership’s eight founding countries in 2011, and the Open Government Partnership was an outgrowth of domestic open government initiatives launched in the first months of the Obama presidency.
In December 2009, Obama issued a directive requiring federal agencies to proactively publish government information online in open formats and to take other steps toward building a culture of openness around data.
This initiative launched the Data.gov website that publishes government databases, as well as WeThePeople.gov, for petitioning the government; Challenge.gov, for competing to help the government solve problems; and USASpending.gov, disclosing and tracking the federal budget.