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Report: Involve IT experts in releasing gov datasets

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A review (84-page/927KB PDF) of information transparency and privacy commissioned by the Cabinet Office has concluded that IT experts should help decide whether to release datasets and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) should have a greater technical awareness.

The review was led by Dr Kieron O'Hara, senior research fellow in electronics and computer science at the University of Southampton. In his report, O'Hara says the involvement of technology experts in a procedure for pre-release screening of data to ensure respect for privacy should be decided on a case-by-case basis. The procedure would include screening of user requests, consideration of potential privacy threats and the maintenance of a data asset register.

The register should set out which data sets were controlled, what they contain, and what decisions have been taken about their release, O'Hara proposes. It could be centrally curated, or kept by individual departments and agencies.

O'Hara said: "Technological developments have created so many imponderable problems... We need better institutions and conversations to screen data for the privacy implications of their release, and we need to include technologists in these conversations to a much greater degree than has historically been the case."

The ICO has made "welcome strides" in recent months toward greater awareness of technical issues, the report says. In particular it has appointed a principal policy adviser in this area and created a technology reference panel.

But the document says that "the severe technical demands made by cutting-edge research in de-anonymisation means that more effort is needed in this direction".

O'Hara says that these and other recommendations, such as creating sector transparency panels and publishing guidance for best practice on data.gov.uk, will allow the integration of privacy protection with transparency, and help preserve public confidence.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: "Over the past 12 months we have begun transforming the relationship between the public and the State.

"The public can now see how government spends its money, track crime in their area street-by-street, and hold ministers to account.

"The government is committed to ensuring that ongoing releases of data are done in a way that provides maximum transparency of data while applying the appropriate data protection safeguards."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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