Content Discussion History

Addressing Open Data Concerns

Concerns about opening data are to be expected. Many of these can be addressed allowing data to be opened to the public safely and usefully.

Here is a list of frequent concerns and how to address them (we also have a video on this topic) for when someone says “We can’t release this data because…”

Someone will reengineer the data to get personal information.

Philosophical ResponseTechnical ResponseExample
Personal data should be protected and we must have strong governance practices to ensure that we are releasing data that should be released.We can aggregate data to ensure that private information is protected. There are a variety of other approaches that can be included in our plan to manage the risk of opening data.Many cities aggregate crime data to the nearest intersection or block level when it is released (for example Seattle uses the Hundred Block Level). This allows critical information on public safety to be available to the public without identifying individuals.

Our data will say we are doing poorly.

Philosophical ResponseTechnical ResponseExample
Hard-working government leaders and staff should never be satisfied with poor performance. Releasing information can encourage self-correcting behavior, help the public understand our government’s challenges, and generate stronger partnerships with stakeholders.We can contextualize information by telling the story around the data. Contextualized data can also help make the case for additional resources or alternative solutions.Many governments release datasets with explanations and important contextual information as a sort of justification of their data. This allows them to demonstrate the action they are taking to address challenges and improve performance while promoting transparency and opening lines of communication with the public.

The data will be misinterpreted by end users.

Philosophical ResponseTechnical ResponseExample
With or without open data people will draw their own conclusions. Opening data provides us an opportunity to shape our story.Providing context along with data can help us tell our story and ensure that we are addressing items that might be commonly misinterpreted.San Francisco provides excellent contextualized data for one of its biggest and highest profile challenges: housing. Its Housing Hub provides policies, reports, and resources to help put the data it is releasing in the proper context for users.

We are already overworked and so we don’t have time to prioritize opening data.

Philosophical ResponseTechnical ResponseExample
While it is true that an open data program takes resources, efficiencies are also gained. Most often these are from a reduction in freedom of information requests and improved data sharing across departments.We can automate the routine publication of data to significantly reduce staff burdens in the long term.Prioritizing an investment in open data can help staff focus on their jobs instead of responding to requests for data. For example, the City of Hartford publishes towing data automatically every hour so that residents can check if their car has been towed, reducing the burden on staff to respond to requests.

We might be sued if we release protected information.

Philosophical ResponseTechnical ResponseExample
To date, very few cities have been sued for releasing open data which turned out to be faulty or misleading. Having a plan and process to protect sensitive information can help limit a city’s exposure to risk.We can include disclaimers in the Terms of Use for our open data. We should also prepare a response plan to carry out in the event we accidentally release protected or incorrect information.Chattanooga’s Open Data Terms of Use include limitations of liability and indemnification clauses in Section VIII.

The cost to keep this program going in the future will be too high.

Philosophical ResponseTechnical ResponseExample
It may be more costly to keep on with business as usual. Delivering open data encourages government to view its digital information as a strategic asset.Publishing raw data allows third parties to deliver that information to the public (build apps, visualizations, etc.), often relieving us of that responsibility.The Kansas City Area Transit Authority publishes route and schedule data. It also provides a directory of third-party applications which make that information more accessible to the public, reducing the need for the department to do so directly.

Using an open data portal creates a cybersecurity risk to our internal IT systems.

Philosophical ResponseTechnical ResponseExample
Generally, open data portals, and the data they hold, are completely separate from internal IT systems. There are very infrequent exceptions to this, and in those cases, GovEx can provide best practices to ensure the greatest possible security of both your technology infrastructure as well as your data. There are no known examples of cybersecurity attacks where government data has been inappropriately obtained through open data portals.Data and the systems it’s housed in are typically decoupled through automated ETL (extract-transform-load) or human intervention. There isn’t usually a connection between a customer accessing information on an open data portal and the computers where the data is maintained. During ETL processes, data is flattened, filtered, merged with information from other databases, and otherwise manipulated which obfuscates or masks the source data system(s). An effective open data program has processes to review data before it’s published to prevent the accidental release of data not appropriate for public consumption.Having a clear process to publish data eliminates cybersecurity risks. Chattanooga created a workflow to ensure that data moves through the proper channels before being released. Once data is identified for publishing, it’s reviewed by the city attorney’s office, the office of performance management and open data, the relevant department’s open data coordinators, and the department of information technology. The city has also set clear protocols for decoupling data from the city’s data systems before releasing data to promote security.


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