Free (some of) our data
I was reading Technology Guardian this morning. Apart from chuckling (as I do on a weekly basis) at Jack Schofield's pipe-chewing pose and losing interest half way through the more overly techy articles, I found myself becoming bemused and exasperated at the inherent conflict between two articles.
The first, written in a Guardian-style one would expect from such an article, bemoaned the latest attempted legal intrusion into a new technology not previously legislated for; internet telephony. The cops apparently wnat to find out who sends and receives data over the various "free" broadband phone lines as they think (probably quite rightly) that this form of communication would be attractive to all manner of ne'er do wells.
The second, under the banner of the Guardian's "Free our data" campaign, bemoaned the fact that the UK government was not allowing the rest of European countries access to geographical data which data is apparently essential to... er... something. There is some geographical-data-sharing iniative going on at the moment (you'd be forgiven for not having heard about it) and us in Blighty are refusing to play ball.
My problem with the first article is that it made clear that the information the police want access to (the identity of people making the calls) just isn't available. To cut a long story short (and to also run what I read through my mental simplification processor unit) the personal information the police want to get hold of simply doesn't exist - "calls" can be made anonymously.
I had a number of problems with the second article. First, its example of the type of geographical detail that "needs" to be shared was the height of low tide - because it's "essential for flood prevention". Essential in the country concerned for sure. Essential for another country with a different tide level? I can't see it. Second, it complained that the UK was holding out because the Ordnance Survey want to use the information it owns (maps etc) to make a "profit" (their parantheses). Quite what a "profit" (in brackets) is as distinguished from a profit (without brackets) I am not sure. Maybe there is some objection to an organisation collecting data in such a way as to accrue copyright in it and then seeking to make a return on that endeavour. Whatever the objection, however, we return to the example. Do the OS own the data relating to tide levels? Nope. And is data relating to tide levels freely available elsewhere? Presumably yep. And do the OS own ALL data relating to geographical data and maps? Nope.
Someone is quoted as saying the UK's attitude is typical of its island mentality. Er but surely by definition the fact that we ARE an island makes our geographical data less useful to, say, Switzerland than that of one of the countries that borders it. if it's less useful, why should we share it? Like, maybe, why should Skype users have to share details of who they call?
Right. So to sum up; article 1 objects to one government body trying to obtain data that does not exist anyway and article 2 objects to another government body refusing to give up data which is (at least in part) freely available elsewhere.
Glad that's sorted out. I know the state has greater potential access to data than Joe Public does. I also know Joe Public doesn't care about half the data it could have in the same way as it is simply not cost-effective, expedient or practical for the state to use all it has access to (which is why not every 16 - 25 year old has not been arrested at least once for drunk and disorderly recorded on CCTV). Just because data exists, it does not mean anyone should have access to it; whether the person resisting access is state or individual.
I reckon Jack Schofield's pipe pose is purely a self-deprecating nod at the fact that he's not utterly in tune with modern tech happenings, and would be much happier talking about the BBC B Micro.
But back to the Free Our Data campaign. Whenever I glance across one of the FOD articles I can't help but imagine its all Star Trek-related, and that a group of campaigners from Yorkshire are demanding the release of the Starfleet android adroitly played by actor Brent Spiner...