Would an Open Data Infrastructure Benefit Lebanon?
By: Dania Yamout
Open data refers to data that can be freely used and redistributed by anyone; allowing it to moved and shared through diverse organizations and networks. This would be done by releasing it in free and open source formats. (Open Data Handbook, 2018.)
Some of the benefits of open data includes the ability to combine different datasets together, thereby allowing organizations to develop more and better products and services. This concept, known as interoperability, also allows for the creation of larger and more complex systems (Open Data Handbook, 2018.)
“A strong data infrastructure will reduce friction in the economy, increase interoperability and collaboration, efficiency and productivity in public and private sectors, nationally and internationally” (Open Data Institute, 2015, p.3).
This is even more crucial for Lebanon, since having an efficient data infrastructure will allow it to develop into a more socially progressive society. In addition, it can encourage more business investment abroad that can help Lebanon grow its struggling economy.
Lebanon in particular would benefit from an open data policy, as it could encourage more transparency and democratic rights in a “country that is consistently perceived as corrupt according to global watchdog Transparency International (Arbid, 2017, p.1)”.
Areas that would benefit from an open data policy in Lebanon include transportation, energy, and education. Accessible information about these sectors could greatly improve the quality of services, as well as making sure that access to these services are available to those that need it.
While having a properly planned and regulated open data infrastructure is crucial for a well-functioning society, it may also help with holding politicians, non-governmental organizations, and other influential figures accountable. The process of creating new data infrastructures will have its challenges. This is particularly true for citizens who want justice and accountability, will face obstacles from those that benefit from having a closed society. Lebanon’s existing systems are extremely inefficient, and an open data policy would shine a light on the corruption and mismanagement of resources that have crippled the country socially and economically for decades.
Ideally speaking, having an open data infrastructure in Lebanon should allow all groups in society to be able to benefit and have their social grievances solved. However, realistically speaking, this may be one the biggest obstacles that Lebanon needs to overcome in order to make open data a reality.
Lebanese society is divided along religious and sectarian lines, which have caused unrest, civil wars, and diplomatic problems with other Middle Eastern countries. What of the country’s ethnical minorities? Would an open data system allow them the same access to information as the majority of Lebanese? What are other factors to consider? Can there be any other undesirable factors that can be used against citizens in order to discriminate against them, thus not allowing them to access information as part of their constitutional rights?
To make open data an empowering force, work needs to be done to remove the obstacles in its path. These include legal, operational, social, political, and economic barriers. The best way to accomplish this is to involve government institutions, non-governmental organizations, and private companies that may have the necessary funds, expertise, and technical knowledge to put these foundations for open data into place.
However, open data is not without its problems. Copyright and database rights usually reside with the record creator or author, and not with the person or subject on whom the data set is based on. These data subjects are not recognized in the data records, and so do not have ownership of the data that is based on their own lives.
This problem was prevalent when it came to the records of Indigenous Australian communities. “Once records are transferred to archival custody, access rights depend on the arrangements made at the time of transfer. Transfer of ownership of records to non-Indigenous institutions may reduce the rights to those records by Indigenous communities. In some cases, a donor may have transferred records to a repository but may not own copyright in all the materials, complicating the use and reproduction of the records by record subjects (Iacovino, 2010, p.357).”
Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, considers issues of privacy and identity when it comes to open data. Floridi believes that these structures are a complete violation of a person’s identity. In the information age, Floridi attempts to define personal identity, as “each person is constituted by his or her information. (Floridi, p.10),” he continues to add that “violations of privacy need to be understood as a form of aggression towards one’s personal identity (Floridi, p.10)”
While open data infrastructures may have potential issues, in this day and age they are extremely important for countries to incorporate them. It is only when open data infrastructures are properly planned and regulated that they can do a variety of remarkable things. Open data has the potential of holding politicians accountable and solving social grievances. By allowing people access to information, society has the potential to create better products and services, allow for easier collaborations in the service of greater innovation, community building, growing a country’s economy, and other valuable opportunities that would not be possible otherwise.
Arbid, J. (2017, March 8). A Step Toward Transparency — Obstacles, Benefits and the Need for Anti-Corruption Commission. Executive Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.executive-magazine.com/special-feature/a-step-toward-transparency
Floridi, L. The Ontological Dimension of Information Privacy, p. 10
Iacovino, L. (2010, June 30). Rethinking Archival, Ethical and Legal Frameworks for Records of Indigenous Australian Communities: A Participant Relationship Model of Rights and Responsibilities. Springer Science+Business Media. 10.1007/s10502–010–9120–3.
Open Data Institute. Who Owns Our Data Infrastructure? Prepared for the 3rd International Open Data Conference. Ottawa, May 2015, p.3.
Open Knowledge International (2018). What is Open Data? Open Data Handbook. Retrieved from http://opendatahandbook.org/guide/en/what-is-open-data/