opendatastudy

Research on Open Data and Transparency


Leave a comment

Scrutinising Brexit: the role of Parliament

number 10

From European Union Committee 1st Report of Session 2016–17 HL Paper 33

Scrutinising Brexit: the role of Parliament (full report here):

        ‘Confidentiality and transparency

  1. One of the key objectives of parliamentary scrutiny is to ensure transparency— to cast a light on the actions of the executive. It is, we suggest, essential thatmany elements of the forthcoming negotiations—for instance, negotiationsaffecting acquired rights, or future cooperation between UK and EU policeforces—should be conducted transparently.
  1. At the same time, some of the most important and complex aspects of theforthcoming negotiations on a new relationship will be sensitive, commercially and politically, and will require a high degree of confidentiality. As the European Commission itself has noted, in the context of trade negotiations,“When entering into a game, no-one starts by revealing his entire strategy tohis counterpart from the outset”.5
  1. It is clear, therefore, that parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations will haveto strike a balance between, on the one hand, the desire for transparency, and on the other, the need to avoid undermining the UK’s negotiating position.We note that parliamentary scrutiny has shown itself, in practice, to be highly flexible. The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, though a statutory body rather than a Select Committee, conducts its hearings wholly in private; other Committees, such as the House of Commons Defence Committee, may receive confidential briefings, while private meetings arecommon across both Houses.
  1. We acknowledge that certain elements of the forthcoming negotiations,particularly those relating to trade, may have to be conducted confidentially. We would expect parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations to strike an appropriate balance between transparency and  confidentiality, while achieving the over while achieving the overarching objective of holding the Government effectively to account.’

 

 


Leave a comment

New Paper: The Impact of Open Data in the UK: Complex, Unpredictable and Political


revenue expenditure01Image http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/our-key-themes/local-government-finance/local-government-funding-and-expenditure/revenue-funding-and

Abstract:

This article examines the democratic impact of the UK Coalition Government’s Transparency Agenda, focusing on the publication of local government spending data as the first steps in an evolving ‘ecology’ of Open Data transparency. It looks at whether the Open Data has driven accountability, participation and information transmission. Rather than forging new ‘performance regimes’ or bringing mass use and involvement, the publication of spending data adds a further element of political ‘turbulence’ that can ‘punctuate’ the ‘equilibrium’ of local politics (Hale et al 2013). The evidence finds that the spending data, so far, has driven some accountability but less participation or information transmission. Taken together, assessment of the three objectives reveals that the use and impact Open Data is far more complex, more unpredictable and more political than the rhetoric around Open Data indicates. The danger is that the gap between aims and impact invites disappointment from supporters.

Worthy, Ben, The Impact of Open Data in the UK: Complex, Unpredictable and Political (March 5, 2015). Public Administration 93 (3): 788-805, 2015.

Paper Available here : http://ssrn.com/abstract=2806876


Leave a comment

Brexit and Open Government in the UK

number 10

Brexit, as we now know, means Brexit. But what does it mean for open government in the UK? On the surface, nothing changes. Almost all the legislation, from Freedom of Information to Data Protection, is bound up in UK law. The Open Data agenda will also continue to move along. Even the EU initiated laws lie Public Sector Re-use will be kept or, if anything is reversed, will somehow be preserved. There are three areas, however, where the tone or direction of open government may change: through new policies, the influence of the new Prime Minister and the Brexit process itself.

New Policies?

Looking across the UK’s 3rd OGP National Action Plan the top three commitments around Beneficial Ownership, extractives transparency and anti-corruption are all very much David Cameron’s personal agenda. Some of them are also very much in process, as the first Beneficial Ownership release last week shows (see this great analysis here of the first batch of data).

Theresa May’s speech in Birmingham has already indicated that she wants to continue in this general direction, with a commitment to ‘more transparency, including the full disclosure of bonus targets and the publication of “pay multiple” data’ and support for Cameron’s anti-tax avoidance drive.  The wider open data agenda is still ongoing. The FOI Act is also relatively safe (for the time being). Since it came into force in 2005 there has been an attempt to amend the law every 18 months or so. However, the FOI Commission’s clear endorsement of the Act and the sheer scale of the resistance to change has probably called a halt to any attempt to limit it in the near future-indeed the 3rd NAP proposed greater publication of data and some minor improvements.

Some new policies are very likely. New governments often promote openness to set a tone. This may be especially important for Prime Minister without a mandate facing the complications of Brexit. Openness represents an easy win to a new leader and is, perhaps, something that could help offset concerns over May’s rather, shall we say, less open actions as Home Secretary. Self-consciously ‘reforming’ administrations in the UK in 1997 and then in 2010, the US in 2009 and Italy in 2013 all made transparency a priority. It ‘signals’ a whole set of messages: that a government is prepared to be open and ‘democratic’ and is prepared to be monitored or overseen by the public.

New Prime Minister?

Political leaders set the tone and send out signals about the openness of their governments. Here’s my quick summary of how the U’Ks last three Prime Ministers did and to what extent they tried to pushback (i.e. limit) or extend openness.

UK Prime Ministers and Openness 2005-2016

Prime Minister Pushback Extension
Tony Blair Fees mooted (2006), (tacitly) supported attempt to have Parliament excluded (2007) Passed FOI Act in 2000
Gordon Brown Cabinet exclusion mooted, Excluded Monarchy from FOI (2010) Extension of 30 year rule (2009) and slight extension of FOI to new areas
David Cameron FOI commission (2015-2016) OGP especially Open Data agenda (2010 onwards) and Beneficial Ownership transparency (2013)

[N.B. this table doesn’t include a series of extensions of the FOI (Scotland) Act in 2012 and 2015-16]

While Tony Blair passed FOI then regretted it, Gordon Brown and David Cameron made strong speeches in favour of openness and pushed various transparency reforms. Cameron was especially committed to make his government the most open in the world, though in 2015 he set up an FOI Commission to restrict the Act and described the law as a ‘buggeration factor’.

So how about new Prime Minister May?

On the plus side, May as Home Secretary has supported and pushed the transparency within the UK anti-corruption agenda and was a key supporter of the long running Hillsborough campaign that exposed police corruption in the late 1980s. On a personal level she was quick to publish her own tax details. She has also extended FOI to the Police Federation and opened up police disciplinary hearings (though a cynic could argue that it is always easy to be transparent about your opponents).

On the minus side, May has been in the Home Office. Historically, the Home Office sunk many plans for greater openness. Recently it seems to have come a rather high third or so in the worst performing departments for FOI. This may, in part, be due to the often difficult and sensitive nature of some of the Home Office’s work.

May herself also has a less than liberal stance on various issues that runs against the idea of more openness: critics could well discern an authoritarian streak. She hasn’t always been transparent or accountable, seeking to hide Border Force cuts from Parliament in 2016 and, more famously, deflecting blame onto officials in 2011.

By far the biggest concern is over the repeated attempts on her watch to pass Investigatory powers legislation (aka ‘the Snoopers Charter’) that has led to ‘controversy around encryption, bulk data and hacking’and the right of various security services to carry out mass surveillance on the public. Serious privacy concerns have been raised by Parliament  with the UN warning it not compliant with International law. May’s refusal, in response to an FOI request, to release her own internet search history led to a backlash  from MPs.

Brexit and Beyond?

Brexit itself will soon become a huge transparency issue. There is an interesting debate about how much ‘information’ there was flowing in the referendum campaign itself, as this great blog post discusses. However, once negotiations begin there will be unprecedented pressure and scrutiny. Prime Minister May and the other 27 countries will probably argue for some secrecy in the delicate process but there will be a powerful case for more open door negotiations and, on a practical level, more leaks than you can imagine.

Here is the crux of the tricky debate between openness and closure. This fascinating study of the European Council of Ministers found openness can be good at regulating behaviour in negotiations but can encourage posturing or unnecessary ‘signalling’ to domestic audiences. Keeping discussions confidential will need to be balanced by a very difficult environment where the Leavers fear being ‘sold out’, Remainers hope for a messy compromise and the press and public demand to know what’s being done.

Looking further into the future, the impact of Brexit could get more complicated. Devolved bodies have already begun to innovate with their own openness policies, as the last NAP recognised. A set of devolved ‘plus’ institutions could easily make some very interesting regional variation in openness across the UK (if, of course, they all stay in the UK).

 


Leave a comment

International Conference “Academic Days on Open Government Issues Journées universitaires sur les enjeux du Gouvernement ouvert”. December 5 & 6, 2016 – Paris, France

images

International Conference
“Academic Days on Open Government Issues
Journées universitaires sur les enjeux du Gouvernement ouvert”.
December 5 & 6, 2016 – Paris, France

Under the direction of
Irène Bouhadana William Gilles

Call for Papers

On December 5 & 6, 2016, the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and IMODEV organize an international conference entitled “Academic Days on Open Government Issues”. This international event, under the direction of Irene Bouhadana and William Gilles, will be the 17th edition in a series ofIMODEV international conferences on the Law and Governance of the Information Society.These academic days will be organized during the week dedicated to the theme since France, as chair of Open Government Partership, will host the Open Government Global Summit in December 2016.

These Academic days aim to bring together all of academia concerned with issues related to open government by favoring a broad and multidisciplinary dimension. One of the goals of the open government process is to promote greater transparency and encourage citizen participation and collaboration in government decision-making, but also to promote government accountability. In this perspective, it is important to emphasize the role of citizens, civil society and stakeholders in decision-making to improve government policies.

see the details CFP long EN v7

Appel à contribution – Call for Papers

Les 5 et 6 décembre 2016, l’Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne et l’IMODEV organiseront une conférence internationale intitulée « Academic Days on Open Government Issues – Journées universitaires sur les enjeux des gouvernements ouverts ». Sous la direction d’Irène Bouhadana et William Gilles, cette manifestation à caractère scientifique sera la 17e édition des conférences internationales de l’IMODEV sur le droit et la gouvernance de la société de l’information.

Ces journées universitaires seront organisées au cours de la semaine pendant laquelle la France accueillera le Sommet mondial 2016 sur les gouvernements ouverts. Cet événement a pour objectif de réunir l’ensemble du monde universitaire concerné par les enjeux relatifs aux gouvernements ouverts en privilégiant une dimension large et pluridisciplinaire.

L’un des objectifs du processus des gouvernements ouverts est de promouvoir une plus grande transparence, d’encourager la participation citoyenne et la collaboration dans la prise de décision gouvernementale, mais aussi de favoriser la responsabilisation du gouvernement. Dans cette perspective, il importe de mettre l’accent sur le rôle des citoyens, de la société civile, et des parties prenantes aux processus de décision pour améliorer les politiques gouvernementales.

 


Leave a comment

Continue, Start, Stop: Reflections on the Third National Action Plan

imagesOn the 12 May the government launched its third open government National Action plan for the OGP. It’s an interesting mixture, so here’s a quick overview of what’s ongoing, what’s new and what’s not there:

Continuing: despite David Cameron’s own difficulties over tax, his push over international tax transparency and anti-corruption continues. Perhaps the most high profile reform from the last national action plan was over Beneficial Ownership, a plan to make UK registered businesses open up data about who (really) owns them through a public register. We shall all be able to see this data very soon.

The new plan extends this principle to foreign companies who are either (i) buying property (ii) bidding for public contacts in the UK-see commitment 1. This is partly about tackling ‘dirty money’ in the UK property market and also about reacting to the Panama Papers.

The devil here is, as ever, in the detail. The consultation paper admits that finding effective sanctions for foreign businesses may be difficult. Opening up tax is truly a global struggle and how the reform fares may also depend on others. David Cameron admitted the US needed to be part of his ‘coalition of the committed’. Closer to home it seems some of the UK’s own tax haven territories and overseas dependencies have been less than enthusiastic about linking up their own registers-the Caymans called it pointless.  It remain to be seen whether super-rich foreign property investors will all flee London when the data appears.

It’s not the only policy to be carried over from the last NAP. Extractives Transparency and anti-corruption initiative are also still a part of the new plan. This series of international issues in the NAP may well be labelled David Cameron’s legacy policies.

Start: there are some new developments not seen in the last plan. Changes to the Freedom of Information Act, rather oddly absent last time round, are now included, with the new plan incorporating some of the recommendations from the Independent Commission on FOI, covering publication of data on FOI use and greater transparency over senior public sector salaries.

A rather nice ‘do they not do that already’? idea is commitment 7 to ‘develop a common data standard for reporting election results’. This could fit with some of the crowd-sourcing projects like Out for the Count that asked techy savvy election watchers to crowd-source the local and devolved election results in May 2016.

Stop: some areas are left untouched from the last plan. This table shows the commitments pushed by civil society and their status-the civil society network points to ‘open budgeting, lobbying transparency and transparency of surveillance’ as outstanding missing commitments. For me the lack of anything on surveillance is disappointing, while the seemingly never-to-be-resolved issue of lobbying and party funding transparency remains stuck. There’s no apparent movement on police records, despite recent controversy over the Hillsborough verdict on South Yorkshire police. However, all is not lost. The plan does offer new commitments that can to be added as it goes along: it is a ‘rolling action plan’ with the capability to ‘add commitments and milestones…over the next two years’.

Other welcome news is that Commitment 13 of the plan commits to ‘ongoing collaboration’ with local government and devolved bodies. The Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish governments have already been pushing ahead with their own Open Data agendas while local government (and some soon to be local government powerhouses) such as Greater Manchester have been pushing a series of experiments. Perhaps the most positive part of the new plan is not what is happening but who will be involved.


Leave a comment

Something Spectacular at the Anti-Corruption Conference, David?

corruption

This week David Cameron will host his long trailed international anti-corruption conference in London. After having a rather torrid time over his own tax transparency and now his apparent gaffe[1], David Cameron is presumably looking for a hard hitting, powerful symbol of his commitment. So what policy rabbit will he pull out of his hat?

Plenty is already happening. His government has recently committed to a new anti-money laundering action plan, stemming from the EU’s Fourth Money Laundering Directive. There was also the recent ‘hammer blow’ against shell companies following the agreement with five countries to share data on Beneficial Ownership (though not everyone is impressed). The government is also  now backing the EU level blacklist of tax havens or ‘non-co-operative jurisdictions’ due to be put together by the end of the summer (though the media claimed the UK government had earlier lobbied against it).

So far, the global anti-corruption agency has already been trailed. So what’s left?

  1. Action on the ownership of foreign companies, as trailed by the Times. The government has pushed a register of Beneficial Ownership for UK business which we can all see as of June next year. In March the government launched a very brief consultation on making foreign companies supply data on ownership if they are (i) buying property (ii) part of a public service contract. This consultation conveniently closed very recently. Something spectacular to stop ‘dirty money’, as David Cameron promised last year?
  1. Action on UK linked tax havens. David Cameron has tried to cajole, berate and ask nicely that UK overseas territories and Dependencies join in a public register Beneficial Ownership over the past few years. The best it has got so far, following demands from the National Crime Agency, are information sharing agreements between the UK and Overseas territories and dependencies-see the agreement with the British Virgin Islands here. However, a number of territories appear to be resisting signing up to anything like a register. The Labour opposition called for the use of some rather obscure legislative instruments, orders in council, to force them to comply. This does seem possible and there is a precedent from 2009 (here’s the actual order taking over the Turks and Caicos Islands). But could it be that, before the full might of the Privy council is deployed, some of this ‘resistance’ may magically break down in time for the summit?
  1. Something I haven’t thought of.

[1] Not all supposed gaffes are truly so, especially when the queen is involved-see this blog.


Leave a comment

Why Does David Cameron Like WhatsApp?

index

The Sun today has claimed that David Cameron and his ‘inner circle’ have been plotting their dastardly Remain campaign using WhatsApp, so they can avoid both FOI and leaks :

DAVID Cameron’s inner circle are sending group texts using the WhatsApp service to keep details of how they are running the EU Remain campaign secret for all time. Ministers and the PM’s most senior aides are keeping discussions of their campaign plans off official Downing Street emails.

It is claimed that a similar thing was done during the planning of the 2015 General Election. Cameron joins a growing list of politicians who have been in trouble over their alleged attempts to use non-FOI-able communication channels, from Sarah Palin (see the underwhelming live blog), to (most famously) Hillary Clinton and even Leave campaign heavyweight Michael Gove who fought a long battle to keep private emails (containing government business) secret.

So is WhatsApp covered by FOI? Probably it is. The rulings from the ICO in the Gove case seemed to indicate that even a private communication channel is subject to FOI if used for government work-see the ruling here. We’ll soon find out, as someone has already put in an FOI to the Home Office and Labour have also called on the ICO to investigate and proposed that social media be included under FOI legislation.

However, I’m not convinced it’s FOI Cameron is avoiding and, as ever, people mix up FOI and leaks. WhatsApp prides itself on its strict end-to-end encryption policy. I think Cameron likes WhatsApp because, barring accidents and stolen phones, it’s the closest thing to leak proof he can find.

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 355 other followers