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Tim Berners-Lee: Coalition mustn't be 'lazy' on open data

Cheaper to store data publicly, says GLB

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W3C The inventor of the World Wide Web told The Register today that it would be a great disappointment to see open data projects such as the data.gov.uk example, and the seemingly doomed data.gov version over in the US, closed in an effort to cut costs.

"What would be a shame would be if people use 'depend on money' as an excuse to be lazy and not be transparent," Sir Tim Berners-Lee told us at a W3C media event in Oxford.

However, he thinks that data.gov – which was recently flagged to be quietly wound down by the US government with the so-called Electronic Government Fund budget being cut from a proposed $35m to a small-fry $8m – will come under lots of pressure to keep it running.

"In today's world, if you can store something it's pretty much as easy to store something in public as it is in private," he argued.

Berners-Lee told the Reg that he hoped not to see the David Cameron-led Coalition follow the US's lead by reconsidering the value of the data.gov.uk project to help push down costs on this side of the Atlantic.

"If you store data in public, you don’t have to worry about security – it's actually more expensive to store it somewhere private because you have to set up access control. So the argument that it is more expensive to make something visible is a weak one; I hope we don’t start using such an excuse [in the UK]," he said.

"The transparency of spending is really powerful... The US doesn’t really have the equivalent," he said, but as we recently reported, a similar portal – the federal contract tracking site USASpending.gov – has been earmarked for the chop.

"I hope the UK doesn’t follow suit. Once they’ve gone there I don’t think the public will let them retreat from that."

TBL is opposed to the winding down of US data.gov and thinks it could be more dangerous and expensive to keep data locked away behind closed doors.

"When times are tight then maybe it becomes less of a luxury to keep in the dark what you’ve actually been doing with the accounts.

"Transparency of government through open data is just as important as it was before, and I would encourage members of the press and organs like The Register to keep pushing for it," he told us.

At today's event, Berners-Lee also spoke about how the internet should be held up to scrutiny at a high level.

"We should make the web optimum to support democracy," he said. ®

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