The New Government of Canada Open Data License: The OGL by another name

Last week the Minister Clement issued a press release announcing some of the progress the government has made on its Open Government Initiatives. Three things caught my eye.

First, it appears the government continues to revise its open data license with things continuing to trend in the right direction.

As some of you will remember, when the government first launched data.gc.ca it had a license that was so onerous that it was laughable. While several provisions were problematic, my favourite was the sweeping, “only-make-us-look-good-clause” which, said, word for word: “You shall not use the data made available through the GC Open Data Portal in any way which, in the opinion of Canada, may bring disrepute to or prejudice the reputation of Canada.”

After I pointed out the problems with this clause to then Minister Day, he managed to have it revoked within hours – very much to his credit. But it is a good reminder to the starting point of the government license and to the mindset of government Canada lawyers.

With the new license, almost all the clauses that would obstruct commercial and non-profit reuse have effectively been eliminated. It is no longer problematic to identify individual companies and the attribution clauses have been rendered slightly easier. Indeed, I would argue that the new license has virtually the same constraints as the UK Open Government License (OGL) and even the Creative Commons CC-BY license.

All this begs the question… why not simply use the language and structure of the OGL in much the same manner that British Columbia Government tried to with its own BC OGL? Such a standardized license across jurisdictions might be helpful, it would certainly simply life for think tanks, academics, developers and other users of the data. This is something I’m pushing for and hope that we might see progress on.

Second, the idea that the government is going to post completed access to information (ATIP) requests online is also a move in the right direction. I suspect that the most common ATIP request is one that someone else has already made. Being able to search through previous requests would enable you to find what you are looking for without having to wait weeks or make public servants redo the entire search and clearing process. What I don’t understand is why only post the summaries? In a digital world it would be better for citizens, and cheaper for the government to simply post the entire request whenever privacy policies wouldn’t prevent it.

Third, and perhaps most important were the lines noting that “That number (of data sets) will continue to grow as the project expands and more federal departments and agencies come onboard. During this pilot project, the Government will also continue to monitor and consider national and international best practices, as well as user feedback, in the licensing of federal open data.”

This means that we should expect more data to hit the site. I seems as though more departments are being asked to figure out what data they can share – hopefully this means that real, interesting data sets will be made public. In particular one hopes that data sets which legislation mandates the government collect, will be high on the list of priorities. Also interesting in this statement is the suggestion that the government will consider national and international best practices. I’ve talked to both the Minister and officials about the need to create common standards and structures for open data across jurisdictions. Fostering and pushing these is an area where the government could take a leadership role and it looks like there may be interesting in this.

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