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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Sunday, August 05, 2007

    Paying twice for information

    Both I - in this blog, most recently at It's our data, we want it, gi'sit mister! - and Information World Review have regularly highlighted the fact that often we - the public - have to pay twice for information. In a new blog entry, The liberation of public information, IWR demonstrate that they are still on the case:
    Imagine yourself in a government department that is custodian of some public information and you are rewarded according to how much you can extract from others for the privilege of sharing it. How would you feel if someone came along and said "hey, the taxpayer has already paid for this information, you should be giving it back at no more than the cost of delivery." Gulp.
    In the Guardian (it seems to be a week for linking to the Guardian!) - Free out data: Ordnance Survey under fire from inside the government - there is an example:
    Government efforts to protect the environment are being hampered by the difficulty in obtaining data from the government's own mapping agency... one government body has to negotiate commercial contracts to use Crown Copyright information generated by another. The body in question is Ordnance Survey (OS), the largest trader in public-sector information. In a remarkably forthright memorandum to the committee, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that OS's licensing terms restrict its ability to distribute data to other European governments and to partner organisations.Victims include a map of land cover of Britain, where the need to pay royalties "undermines Defra's business case for continued investment"
    The Power of Information is an independent review, commissioned by the Cabinet Office, into “state- and citizen-generated information” and authored by Tom Steinberg (MySociety) and Ed Mayo (National Consumer Council), which calls for the government to examine the economic case for keeping some public sector information linked with fund raising. The Government has made much of sharing personal identity data (that's stuff about you and me!) between departments and agencies in the interests of efficiency... I wonder if we are now to understand that 'efficiency' means making money out of our data?

    As IWR says:
    Watch these people closely. They claim they will have a set of proposals ready for public comment by the end of this year. We should all be poised to scrutinise this and give our feedback. It will be a good test of whether they really want to listen or just try and put off the evil (to them) day when they have to give us back what was ours in the first place.
    I seem to remember that, at the original consultancy exercise about the sharing of personal information, we were told that our ideas and thoughts would be listened to but not acted on (Good old democratic principles of government!) What goes around, comes around - and here we are ten years down the line STILL debating the same issues but, this time, because of the internal revenue generation that goes on around public information.

    See also the Free Our Data blog.

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