Transparency in Government: Just Give us the Data!

Posted June 2nd, 2008 by

Interesting blog post at Freedom to Tinker about government releasing the raw data.  It makes the security geek in me cringe because well, most of the data that the government has is PII, and I know that the typical government reaction is to say “not only no, but h*ll no!!”  I mean, after all, most of our goal in the Government is to keep the data from reaching the citizens and evil-doers–giving away data is a cultural clash.

Yes, transparent government is a pretty good goal.  I think the authors of Freedom to Tinker have forgotten that not all Government data is fit for public consumption.  The problem is one of sanitization:  how do you clean all of the PII out of data before you release it to the public?  Not only that, but because of the size of the data sets, most likely you need an automated method to sanitize it.  I think that because of the sanitization factor that the Government would not gain that much efficiency by outsourcing the data presentation to others.

As with all things in security, this is nothing new.  There’s a little-known project (First Rule of “Fight Club” being what it is…) known as Radiant Mercury that does exactly this with classified data.  You can check out the basic concept in quasi-official presentations here (.pdf caveat) and here.

If we were going to make all this data available, we would need an unclassified version of Radiant Mercury to filter out all the PII and “Sensitive but Unclassified” bits.

Now as far as letting second parties build interfaces into the raw data, I’m torn on it.  On one hand, private industry can provide access to data “Now at Web 2.0 Speeds!” but on the other hand, then the Government loses control over the presentation and, by extension, accountability for the content.

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