Open Data

Senators seek to protect federal data

Shutterstock image (by Laborant): clear magnifying glass, blurred binary code. 

A bipartisan pair of senators is seeking to codify protections to the public's access to open government data.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced yesterday the Preserving Data in Government Act, which would require federal agencies to keep existing data online and prevent its removal without at least six months' notice on the Federal Register website.

"Once data has been published and made available to the public, it should remain available to the public," Gardner said in a statement. "Whether it's a technology entrepreneur working on their next innovation or a retailer seeking better weather forecasting to help organize shipments, data is utilized to achieve numerous goals and plays a critical role in improving processes and our daily lives."

Peters added that "research data that has been collected using taxpayer dollars should be publicly accessible and easily searchable."

While legislation concerning the preservation of records exists, such as the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act, this bill focuses on government data.

Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, told FCW that "there's been a gap with regard to federal records around their continued availability to the public on government websites," he said, adding the government is "still applying 20th century laws to a 19th century institution in a 21st century context."

In addition to the protections, the bill would mandate a record of "any substantial alteration" to the contents of a dataset and seeks to define "open government data" and "public data asset."

Howard said that while the specific definitions "should be debated," he was encouraged by the proposal.

In the context of a White House that has "one of the worst records on open government in history in the first 100 days," Howard said, "it is definitely the role of Congress to lay out some principles about what the public should expect." The bill's bipartisan sponsorship is "a great sign that this set of concerns crosses parties," he added.

Other government transparency and research groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's Center for Data Innovation, have also expressed their support for the bill.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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