open data | January 07, 2013

David Eaves: Attaining Transparency Doesn't Mean Trampling Privacy

David Eaves is a leader in the "open movement", but as he explains in his latest blog post, there's a fine line that exists between transparency and a breach of privacy. "There is lots of information governments collect about people—the vast majority of which is not, and should not be available," he explains in the post. "As both an open data advocate and a gov 2.0 advocate I’m strongly interested in ensuring that—around any given data set—peoples sense of privacy is preserved." While he believes that information should be readily available to us in the digital age, and not blockaded by bureaucratic red tape, there are still some things that should remain private. An example he cites is the The Journal News' decision to publish the names and addresses of pistol permit holders in Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland, New York. All of this data was uncovered through Freedom of Information requests, and was published in a response to the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Some people look at this as an open data argument, he writes, but Eaves believes that this is an issue of personable identifiable data and when that data should be used—and how. In regards to The Journal News example, people were enraged with the decision to publish the information—to the point of death threats. The debate in this instance, he argues, does not rest on the availability of open data but on the use of that data and whether it infringes on individual privacy rights. He says that the two debates often overlap, which is troublesome for the open data movement. While he believes there should be less closed-door policies on what we are allowed access to, he also notes that, "no one ever gave anyone a blank check to make any and everything open. I don’t expect my personal healthcare or student record to be downloadable by anyone—I suspect you don’t either." As he explains at the end of the article, these debates are going to become increasingly important in the future and we can expect to be having many more of them.

Eaves is an expert on public policy, strategy, open government, negotiation, and collaboration. Eaves' talks on technology and transparency are highly requested by business executives, student groups, and government agencies alike. He has written for The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, and contributed chapters to books such as O'Reilly Media's Open Government. He is also an influential blogger.

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