An effort to get Oklahoma to develop a centralized Web site for raw data has been derailed over fears of identity theft and additional bureaucracy.
House Bill 2318, by Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, fell by a vote of 37-59 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives earlier this week. You can check out a video of the 40-minute debate on the measure here.
The bill would have provided a centralized place on the state’s Web site called data.ok.gov. State agencies could post their open data there for the public to download, much like the federal government’s data.gov site or Utah’s open data site:
The idea behind such sites is simple: spur innovation by providing bulk, open information to the public. It’s all part of the “mashup” movement that’s gaining traction worldwide. Some mashups are fairly simple, like matching a table of data with locations on a Web map. Others are more specialized and complex. The Web site ProgrammableWeb has a directory of some government-related mashups here.
Debate focuses on fear
Rep. John Wright, R-Broken Arrow, said he didn’t want data from his drivers license or tax returns to be public. But drivers license data is already closed under federal law. And state driving records are also closed, except for certain exceptions for insurance companies, researchers and other groups. State tax returns are not open records in Oklahoma.
Murphey said his bill applied only to information that was already covered by the state’s Open Records Act.
Still, Wright said he was worried about the integrity and accuracy of the data provided by state agencies. He expressed concerns over the “double-edged sword of openness in the area of government information” and noted the number of commercials warning against identity theft on the radio:
I’m concerned about the possibility of simple human error corrupting some of the data that could easily be corrected. … I’m concerned about the broad access of the data. The data in itself not necessarily good or bad, it’s what somebody does with the data. I don’t know where you interface with state government, but I interface with state government with my drivers license, my tax return, I guess right now the paycheck. But the information that the state has on me, I don’t necessarily think anybody should have access to that. I can’t see a legitimate lawful use of it for any other citizen of the state. There’s some data that I want the state to hold very much in confidence. You listen to the radio for an hour or two, you’ll hear an ad on identity theft. Somebody doesn’t need to get too much data on you to be able to execute that. I’m not a programmer, but you’re not far from getting data to getting access to having the backdoor into somebody’s computer system. It’s a double-edged sword about this openness. I certainly want to have the government accountable. We’re stewards of the information on the public, and I’m concerned about how we steward that information.
To me, Wright seems to be confusing the information the state keeps on him that is already closed with the broader goal of making state information that’s already public more accessible.
As someone who deals with government data for a living, I understand Wright’s concerns over inaccurate data. Rarely do I receive data without errors or omissions. But that’s also why it’s important to set up a structure whereby data can be released to the public.
Take the recent coverage of the data released from the federal government’s Recovery.gov site last year. Whatever your views over the effectiveness of the stimulus package, it was a huge effort to get the hundreds of thousands of recipients to report their stimulus funds in a consistent manner. And yes, because humans are behind every data set, there were mistakes. But because those mistakes were highlighted in numerous news articles, the government was fairly quick to make amends, proving that sunshine really is the best disinfectant:
When recipients reported in October, 2009 for February 17 – September 30, 2009, some recipients reported incorrect or invalid congressional districts. The code “ZZ” appears in place of those incorrect congressional districts.
In an e-mail this week, Murphey said he would keep trying to push for better technology in government:
I am committed to better explaining the importance of Government 2.0 to my colleagues and how it will enable the citizens to hold government responsible like never before possible. I plan on passing this legislation as soon as possible.”
(Full disclosure: The need to establish a data.ok.gov site was something I blogged about last month. I mentioned the need for that site to Rep. Murphey at a public event in late January.)
Written by Paul Monies