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Cambridge boffins draw map to Free Our Data

Campaign to open up Ordnance Survey adds up

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Top boffins have given economic backing to a campaign to relax access restrictions on government-collected databases, such as the Ordnance Survey's unrivalled stash of UK mapping information.

The Department for Business, Employment and Regulatory Reform (BERR, formerly DTI) released the analysis, commissioned from a team at the University of Cambridge, last week. It refutes the oft-cited government line that allowing free access and reuse of national data assets would harm the economy.

The Free Our Data campaign has been arguing against that line for two years, and now has the sums to back up its smack talk.

In fact, 147 pages of number-crunching led to the conclusion that opening up the data vaults at the Met Office, Land Registry and a host of other agencies could benefit the economy to the tune of net £164m. The vast majority of that sum would come from the Ordnance Survey, however.

Subject to a policy review, charges for accessing and reusing reams of data should therefore be dropped, they argue. It would mean developers could freely access mapping data to create their own location-dependent apps, rather than be reliant on Google Maps, for example.

Most pleasingly, an enormous administrative bureaucracy involving government departments paying each other for access to information could be torn down.

The government argues that businesses and individuals who use the data should contribute to the cost of collecting it. The counter-argument is damning: Ordnance Survey makes a profit for the Treasury, but locking down its maps suffocates a potential boom in Geographic Information Services and other businesses, that would funnel much more back into the economy.

The full report available here (pdf) from the BERR website (caution: only suitable for differential equation fanciers).

Guardian writers Charles Arthur and Michael Cross have been banging the drum with the Free Our Data campaign since the start. You can learn more or join here. ®

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