Background

Computing and networking technology has made it easier than ever before for organizations and individuals to share, analyze and understand large bodies of information. Government agencies and legislators have long recognized the value of the Internet, having helped to create it, and share a strong commitment to providing for the information needs of citizens and others.

Government agencies increasingly post information -- often for the benefit of individual citizens -- on the Internet and through the World Wide Web (WWW). The U.S. Public Policy Council of the ACM (USACM) applauds ongoing efforts to make these data as accessible as possible to all Americans. However, law, custom and technology have all contributed to diverse and often inconsistent forms of publication for the data provided.

Many Internet users are learning to control their online experience, including combining and analyzing information in innovative ways that go beyond what the data's original publishers imagined. Individual citizens, companies and organizations have begun to use computers to analyze government data, often creating and sharing tools that allow others to perform their own analyses. This process can be enhanced by government policies that promote data reusability, which often can be achieved through modest technical measures. But today, various parts of governments at all levels have differing and sometimes detrimental policies toward promoting a vibrant landscape of third-party web sites and tools that can enhance the usefulness of government data.USACM makes the following policy recommendations for data that is already considered public information.


Recommendations

  • Data published by the government should be in formats and approaches that promote analysis and reuse of that data.
  • Data republished by the government that has been received or stored in a machine-readable format (such as online regulatory filings) should preserve the machine-readability of that data. 
  • Information should be posted so as to also be accessible to citizens with limitations and disabilities. 
  • Citizens should be able to download complete datasets of regulatory, legislative or other information, or appropriately chosen subsets of that information, when it is published by government.
  • Citizens should be able to directly access government-published datasets using standard methods such as queries via an API (Application Programming Interface). 
  • Government bodies publishing data online should always seek to publish using data formats that do not include executable content.
  • Published content should be digitally signed or include attestation of publication/creation date, authenticity, and integrity.

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