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Finding The ‘Rights’ Balance:

7 ideas to harmonize debates surrounding open data and privacy

Photo by Juan chavez on Unsplash

The importance of transparency and privacy

Transparency is a fundamental open government principle, a catalyst for good governance practices and for the increase in citizen trust in institutions. Within this pillar, we can say that access to public information is internationally understood as a fundamental human right (for example, the United Nations Human Rights Committee recognizes it in its general comments on article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when analyzing freedom of expression).

7 ideas to achieve balance and coherence

  1. Understand the current legislation on transparency, open data and protection of personal data. It is important to understand the current regulations and how they dialogue with each other, both locally, nationally, and internationally, in order to make effective and balanced rights without detriment to any of them. The legal system must be coherent and harmonious.
  2. Familiarize yourself with data ethical bases. There are various organizations and governments that work on these issues and have proposals and consultation documents. Some of them are the Data Ethics Canvas of the Open Data Institute (ODI); the principles of Data Ethics in the Public Sector of the OECD; and the UK data ethics framework. Likewise, the principles of the International Open Data Charter help us achieve best practices. The ODI Canvas, for example, is a valuable tool that guides us in data collection, use and publication processes, proposing a series of items to think about in the development of projects: identify data sources, their limitations, the possibilities of sharing this data or not, the ethical and legislative context, identifying the rights linked to these data sources, the positive and negative effects that it can have on citizens, communication, among other points.
  3. Define clear objectives in transparency and open data policies. It is key to make opening plans, taking into account current regulations, demand, resources, etc. In this way, when planning, risks can be identified and if there is personal or reserved information, it can be treated to avoid publishing data that does not correspond, and to be able to publish the rest of the information with the necessary precautions. Planning ahead is important to identify risks, prevent them, and mitigate them.
  4. Apply data protection techniques. Regarding personal data, there are anonymization guides to be able to open data protecting private and/or sensitive information. Some good examples are the Open Data Institute guide, or the guides proposed by the Spanish Data Protection Agency.
  5. Data Protection laws and Access to Information laws (or Open Data policies) must dialogue with each other. They specify what information is personal and confidential, and provide alternatives for its publication with different techniques. A good example is the Model Law on Access to Information 2.0 of the Organization of American States, which contemplates confidential information and personal data, and how information can be processed or shared partially with consent. The GDPR, in the same way, points that public access to official documents must be reconciled with the right to the protection of personal data.
  6. Regarding public governance structures, it is important that the Oversight Bodies for the application of the laws on access to public information and protection of personal data, whether they are under the same orbit or not, work in synergies in the safeguarding of both rights to guarantee them.
  7. Context matters. The balance between these rights varies and dialogues in different ways according to the types of data we are working with and sectorial topics that are addressed. It is probable, for example, that regarding data that can advance climate action, that there will be less sensitive and/or personal information than if we work on another topic such as anti-corruption, where there may be personal information of officials, company owners, etc., which should be treated differently. At the Open Data Charter, we are investigating these issues.

The way forward

Open data and the right to privacy are not only complimentary, but must be understood in harmony when practiced, in order to protect fundamental human rights. There are different regulations, guides and principles that help us to balance this situation and push us to achieve coherence in the development of public policies. From Open Data Charter we will be investigating good practices and regulatory advances, and generating resources to accompany the community. We will promote research to understand the balance of these rights in specific thematic areas, and see how they interact in specific cases. In addition, we will analyze good practices and lessons from different bodies of data protection regulation, with a specific focus on how this affects open data, to generate public policy recommendations. We will study different models of data governance and we will generate spaces for debate and exchange with different actors and networks. We will continue promoting initiatives in which open data has a positive impact to deepen fundamental human rights.



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Open Data Charter

Collaborating with governments and organisations to open up data for pay parity, climate action and combatting corruption.