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Obama orders gov data must be 'open and machine-readable'

Get busy, US government IT folk, you've got six months to show progress

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US President Barack Obama has issued an Executive Order, decreeing that “Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable.”

The Order notes that in recent years the US government made GPS available to all and then created data.gov.

“Entrepreneurs and innovators have continued to develop a vast range of useful new products and businesses using these public information resources, creating good jobs in the process,” the Order says, making it plain more jobs and innovation are the desired outcome of this initiative.

The Order calls for the penning of a formal Open Data Policy that agencies must implement. Thirty days after that document lands, “an open online repository of tools and best practices to assist agencies in integrating the Open Data Policy into their operations in furtherance of their missions” is due to land. Another three months down the track authorities must “identify and initiate implementation of measures to support the integration of the Open Data Policy requirements into Federal acquisition and grant-making processes.”

Government agencies will eventually have to implement the policy.

All of which will delight many, save perhaps for the requirement for agencies to conduct “a full analysis of privacy, confidentiality, and security risks into each stage of the information lifecycle to identify information that should not be released.”

Might some read that requirement and wonder if a list of material held back under that provision is more interesting than the data that is released? With the policy as-yet-unwritten it's impossible to say how much information will be available about absent information, or whether appeals are possible.

Such processes may become desirable, as the Executive Order applies to independent agencies, of class of organisation into which the Central Intelligence Agency falls. So does NASA, which should make things interesting for Area 51 conspiracists and all manner of other folks best dealt with by Snopes.com. ®

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