Turnbull talks challenges with open data in government

Infrastructure, privacy are issues the government is still wading through

The government’s push for more open data and transparency no doubt opens the doors for private sector organisations to be more innovative, but it doesn’t come without its challenges.

Speaking at an Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) analytics summit in Canberra, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull outlined these challenges.

“We are, unfortunately, behind our peers in the private sector when it comes to utilising technology – harnessing the power of digital innovation – to deliver better and more accessible services online,” Turnbull pointed out.

Wading through complex, disparate infrastructure that supports data sharing is one issue. “Government purchasing and tendering processes don't lend themselves to rapid change and adjustment of IT infrastructure as technology evolves. This issue has really only been addressed sporadically by departments,” Turnbull said.

Government agencies and departments also carry out data sharing initiatives in an “isolated” way, rather than taking a “coordinated approach to transform the business model of how government agencies currently operate”.

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Turnbull said he is looking to leverage the private sector to co-ordinate data sharing infrastructure and initiatives in government.

Privacy is another issue that the government is still wading through, Turnbull said, particularly when government often collects personal and sensitive information on citizens such as tax and medical records.

He said privacy issues include de-identification of data, data retention and cross-border flows of data, improving the linking of data across agencies and better use of third party data sets.

The government is also looking at how it will deal with the ‘mosaic effect’, where data elements in isolation appear anonymous but can lead to a privacy breach when combined, the minister said.

The government is playing catch up when it comes to making its data publicly available. Turnbull said Australia is behind the United States, which has published more than 100,000 datasets. The data sets available on the data.gov.au website currently is 3,371.

“Unfortunately, in Australia, the private sectors interest in leveraging public data has been limited simply because of the lack of data that has been made publicly available,” he said.

“We must ensure that data is not only published regularly but in a machine readable form. The establishment of data.gov.au and the publication of the Principles on Open Public Sector Information (PSI) have been important steps in opening up the data held by Commonwealth agencies for re-use.

“The current Australian Government's principles on open public sector information state that open access should be our default position. And this approach is reflected in the United States too where President Barack Obama, on his first full day in office, who issued a presidential memorandum that, ‘in the face of doubt, openness prevails [when it comes to the release of agency data]’.”

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Tags privacyMalcolm Turnbullbig dataIT infrastructureopen governmentopen government dataopen data

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