Open Data And API Efforts Rendered Useless When Privacy Is Ignored

On the second anniversary of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), where we are celebrating a "global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance", and that:

OGP has grown to 60 countries that have made more than 1000 commitments to improve the governance of more than two billion people around the globe. OGP is now a global community of government reformers, civil society leaders, and business innovators working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms and advance good governance.

That is some pretty significant platform growth! While reading this I'm reminded of how any amount of perceived growth and value delivered via an "open data or API platform" can be immediately muted by the omission of very fundamental building blocks like privacy.

Let's review the building blocks of the Open Government Alliance:

  • Expand Open Data - Open Data fuels innovation that grows the economy and advances government transparency and accountability. Government data has been used by journalists to uncover variations in hospital billings, by citizens to learn more about the social services provided by charities in their communities, and by entrepreneurs building new software tools to help farmers plan and manage their crops. Building upon the successful implementation of open data commitments in the first U.S. National Action Plan, the new Plan will include commitments to make government data more accessible and useful for the public, such as reforming how Federal agencies manage government data as a strategic asset, launching a new version of, and expanding agriculture and nutrition data to help farmers and communities.
  • Modernize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) - The FOIA encourages accountability through transparency and represents a profound national commitment to open government principles. Improving FOIA administration is one of the most effective ways to make the U.S. Government more open and accountable. Today, the United States announced a series of commitments to further modernize FOIA processes, including launching a consolidated online FOIA service to improve customers’ experience and making training resources available to FOIA professionals and other Federal employees.
  • Increase Fiscal Transparency - The Administration will further increase the transparency of where Federal tax dollars are spent by making federal spending data more easily available on; facilitating the publication of currently unavailable procurement contract information; and enabling Americans to more easily identify who is receiving tax dollars, where those entities or individuals are located, and how much they receive.
  • Increase Corporate Transparency - Preventing criminal organizations from concealing the true ownership and control of businesses they operate is a critical element in safeguarding U.S. and international financial markets, addressing tax avoidance, and combatting corruption in the United States and abroad. Today we committed to take further steps to enhance transparency of legal entities formed in the United States.
  • Advance Citizen Engagement and Empowerment - OGP was founded on the principle that an active and robust civil society is critical to open and accountable governance. In the next year, the Administration will intensify its efforts to roll back and prevent new restrictions on civil society around the world in partnership with other governments, multilateral institutions, the philanthropy community, the private sector, and civil society. This effort will focus on improving the legal and regulatory framework for civil society, promoting best practices for government-civil society collaboration, and conceiving of new and innovative ways to support civil society globally.
  • More Effectively Manage Public Resources - Two years ago, the Administration committed to ensuring that American taxpayers receive every dollar due for the extraction of the nation’s natural resources by committing to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). We continue to work toward achieving full EITI compliance in 2016. Additionally, the U.S. Government will disclose revenues on geothermal and renewable energy and discuss future disclosure of timber revenues.

How can you argue with that? Its very sensible set of open government platform building blocks right? However, when you look at the bigger picture you realize there is a significant building block, that us in the tech sector have realized is essential to a healthy platform ecosystem missing:

  • Citizen Data Privacy - Ensuring that government respects the online privacy of each and every U.S. citizen, preventing unwanted harvesting of private data or meta data that exists in cloud environments, computer and mobile devices as well as transported across telecommunications infrastructure locally or abroad. When privacy is compromised in the name of law enforcement or national security, the laws, rules and procedures around these accepted situations are made publicly accessible.

It is great that our government is committed to expanding open data, increasing transparency and efficiently engaging citizens, and sensibly manage public resources. However if our government wants to act as an open platform, just like any private sector platform, they must respect user privacy.

Without ensuring privacy for users, it doesn't matter how forward thinking your open data, information and API strategy is. Privacy and security are essential building blocks any private or public sector entity looking to build an open platform.

Nice work around the Open Government Partnership, but without addressing the privacy of citizens it is rendered pretty useless.