Thursday, November 04, 2010

Reasons for not releasing data in government (Workshop 1 CEBIT Gov 2.0 Conference)

We're in the first workshop of the day at the CEBIT Gov 2.0 conference.

It is led by Andrew Stott, the Director for Digital Engagement for the UK government.

The first exercise of the day has been to come up with reasons that government may give for not releasing data online. I don't know if I'm happy or disappointed that our table did the best - coming up with 36 reasons (second was a table with 27).

I've listed them below - and added an additional set that Andrew says that he has also encountered in his role.

Note there are no value-judgements implied as to the validity of these reasons in specific cases.

Reasons for not releasing government data

  1. Costs too much
  2. No business case
  3. Has commercial value
  4. It could breach privacy
  5. It's classified
  6. It's not ours and we don't know whose it is
  7. Unsure about quality
  8. We don't know where it is
  9. It's not our job
  10. It's not in a useful format
  11. I'm not authorised
  12. People will misuse it
  13. The minister will lose reputation
  14. It's not ready yet
  15. The department will lose reputation
  16. Files are too large
  17. We don't have enough bandwidth
  18. Thin edge of the wedge
  19. Can find it but cannot access it
  20. It is out of date / too old
  21. We only have it on paper
  22. We don't know if we're allowed to do it legally
  23. Our Secretary says no
  24. We've never done it before
  25. We don't know why anyone would want it
  26. Don't see the value
  27. Don't have time / resources
  28. They can FOI it
  29. We'll release it (but 90% redact it)
  30. It is incomplete
  31. It is incorrect
  32. Commercially sensitive
  33. Mosaic theory – could put it together with other data
  34. People would focus on the wrong things
  35. It may cause unnecessary public discussion
  36. We can't confirm or deny we collect it
Here's Andrew's additional reasons:

  • We know the data is wrong, and people will tell us where it is wrong, then we'd waste resources inputting the corrections people send us
  • Our IT suppliers will charge us a fortune to do an ad hoc data extract
  • Our website cannot hold files this large
  • it's not ours and we don't have authorisation from the data owner
  • We've already published the data (but it's unfindable/unusable)
  • People may download and cache the data and it will be out of date when they reuse it
  • We don't collect it regularly
  • Too many people will want to download it, which will cause our servers to fail
  • People would get upset

 Please add your own in comments...


  1. Seems like BitTorrent is the answer to some of those technical distribution points.

  2. It may contradict views expressed by the Minister or the department, or even data sets of other agencies.

  3. Part of the problem with many of those reasons is that they make some pretty heady assumptions about citizens and about transparency.

  4. They sound like excuses, not reasons...

  5. Best reason of all...
    It is easier to say no and not have to think about it

  6. Some of these reasons ("excuses") actually remind me of the arguments or concerns that can come up when implementing enterprise search. A lot of it points to poor information governance in the first instance.

  7. I hear a lot of "others are not expert enough to interpret/handle this data", esp when the people at the data source have a large deal of that expertise. A central statistics office employee here in Europe told me once "we are the only ones that really know how to do statistics, so we will not give others our raw data"


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