October 2007

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The Green Party, reports Michael Geist, put out it’s policy document.

Have not looked thru it yet, but there’s support for network neutrality:

Supporting the free flow of information

The Internet has become an essential tool in knowledge storage and the free flow of information between citizens. It is playing a critical role in democratizing communications and society as a whole. There are corporations that want to control the content of information on the internet and alter the free flow of information by giving preferential treatment to those who pay extra for faster service.

Our Vision

The Green Party of Canada is committed to the original design principle of the internet – network neutrality: the idea that a maximally useful public information network treats all content, sites, and platforms equally, thus allowing the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application.

Green Solutions

Green Party MPs will:

* Pass legislation granting the Internet in Canada the status of Common Carrier – prohibiting Internet Service Providers from discriminating due to content while freeing them from liability for content transmitted through their systems.

and free/open source software:

Open source computer software

As computer hardware improves, it is important that software programs are readily modifiable by the people who buy and use them. Developing alongside the proprietary software sector is Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS). This software is generally available at little or no cost, making it very popular in the developing world. It can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed with little or no restriction. Businesses can adapt the software to their specific needs.

Under the free software business model, vendors may charge a fee for distribution and offer paid support and customization services. Free software gives users the ability to work together enhancing and refining the programs they use. It is a pure public good rather than a private good.

Our Vision

The Green Party supports the goals and ideals of Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) and believes that Canada’s competitiveness in global information technology (IT) will be greatly enhanced by strongly supporting FLOSS.

Green Solutions

Green Party MPs will:

* Ensure that all new software developed for or by government is based on open standards and encourage and support a nationwide transition to FLOSS in all critical government IT systems. This will make Canada’s IT infrastructure more secure and robust, lower administration and licensing costs and develop IT skills.
* Support the transition to FLOSS throughout the educational system

I’d say it would be worth asking them what they think of civic access to canadian government data.

It is a small world!  Especially in Ottawa where the degree of separation is about .0005 degrees!  Feels like that anyway!

Zzzoot is definitely a kindred blog to datalibre.ca.  The Sept. posts are excellent reviews of International data access and preservation technologies, RFPs and initiatives.  All my faves’ are discussed there – Cyberinfrastructure in the US, Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) UK DataShare project and CODATA Open Data for Open Science Journal and a whole bunch more.

I think like I, he wishes there would be some uptake from these innovations & initiatives here!

The Guardian UK Tech Section has an ongoing campaign to free UK government data, with an associated blog: freeourdata.org.uk/blog.

Their campaign inspired a response from the Ordnance Survey titled:
These maps cost us £110m. We can’t give them away for free
. The response argues that the maps cost money, that the OS needs money to operate, and that by charging for the maps they can continue to provide a valuable service. Among other things:

It cost Ordnance Survey £110m to collect, maintain and supply our data last year, but we are not “paid for by taxes”, as the campaign often claims. Instead, we depend entirely on receipts from licensing and direct sales to customers for our income – we receive no tax funding at all.

If we are successful, we can cover our costs, encourage widespread licensing through partners, and stay focused on providing value for users. Under licence, there are many examples where our data is free at the point of use. This does not mean there is zero cost.

[Interesting to note that the OS’s clients, much like statscan clients, are “users,” not citizens].

The Free Our Data people responded to response in their blog, noting the key reason for their campaign:

We believe [making OS data and maps free] would set off an explosion in private-sector use of the data, and lead to more companies which would create more jobs and generate more taxes. That would offset any extra taxation required to fund OS. Making the data free would also get rid of onerous and inefficient licensing schemes that tangle up central and local government departments, which wonder if they can reuse something or even display it on the web. (Search this blog for NEPHO.)

And that was followed by further response from Tom Steinberg and Ed Mayo, the authors of the Power of Information, who say:

The key issue about charging is whether the UK would benefit more in net terms from the more vibrant information market that more open information would bring than it would lose through having to find an additional £60m per year. This is a serious question that the Treasury is currently looking into, having accepted the recommendation in the independent review we co-authored for the government earlier this year.

[link to complete letter].

Which garnered some further feedback from the Free Our Data.

And in the end this is a compelling case, perhaps the compelling case: a case that ought to convince you whatever your political leanings, right or left or circular. There are moral and social and philosophical reasons to support free government data. But the one that’s most likely to win converts is the case that free data makes for more innovation. The innovation can be commercial, social, socioeconomic – touching on health, environment, planning, equality etc, but also just good old-fashioned economic vitality.

But all of it, we’d argue, will “make Canada a better country” not just morally, but in our ability to solve important problems, and, yes, make some people more money in the mean time. Which means, in the end, more tax receipts, which means that it should offset any lost revenues Statscan and other Canadian agencies now receive for excluding all but big companies and institutions from their datasets.

The issue of public access to government data has a number of components: availability (is it available?), format (is it in a usable/open format?), cost (is it free?), and copyright (do I need permission to use it, may I do with it what I wish?).
one cent
The City of Toronto has recently launched a campaign to get more money for cities from the Federal government, asking for one cent from the GST. The campaign is called: onecentnow.ca, and uses the Canadian penny in ads and on their web site.

They’ve received a retroactive bill from the Royal Canadian Mint for $47,000+ for use of the image of the Canadian penny, and for use of the words “one cent” (!).

There are political/moral issues here about how government agencies use (or abuse) existing laws. Notably, the Royal Canadian Mint is a crown corporation that answers to the federal government, and the federal government is a target of the onecentnow.ca campaign, so this retroactive charge could be interpreted as politically motivated. Perhaps not.

And of course there are policy issues about how Crown Copyright ought to be used, or whether it should exist at all. In the USA, for instance, federal government documents, designs and publications are de facto in the public domain.

But other than these abstract concerns, there is a more crucial point: the Mint appears to be on the wrong side of the Canadian Copyright Act. As Howard Knopf points out in Excess Copyright, Canadian copyright law provides copyright protection until 50 years after the death of the creator. Crown Copyright extends 50 years after date of publication.

The Canadian penny was designed by G.E. Kruger Gray in 1937. He died in 1943, meaning that the design for the Canadian penny went into the public domain 50 years later, in 1993. Which means that no one, including the Royal Canadian Mint, can claim ownership of the image, much less charge for its use.

He notes further that it seems unlikely that any court would agree with the Mint that they own a copyright or trademark on the words “one cent.”

So it seems possible that the Royal Canadian Mint has developed an Intellectual Property policy that is claiming – and charging for – ownership where none exists.

The World Freedom Atlas is:

an online geo-visualization tool that shows a number of freedom indicators so to speak. For example, you can map by a number of indexes such as raw political rights score, civil liberties, political imprisonment, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or torture. If I’ve counted correctly the data comes from 42 datasets divided into three categories:

[from the wonderfully-named blog, flowingdata.com]

One of the big worries about access to government data are issues of privacy. Here’s a video of Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner, taking to engineers at Waterloo, about the importance of designing for privacy:

Globally, issues about information privacy in the marketplace have emerged in tandem with the dramatic and escalating increase in information stored in electronic formats. Data mining, for example, can be extremely valuable for businesses, but in the absence of adequate safeguards, it can jeopradize informational privacy. Dr. Ann Cavoukian talks about how to use technology to enhance privacy. Some of the technologies discussed included instant messaging, RFID tags and Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC). Then Dr. Cavoukian explained the “7 Privacy – Embedded Laws” followed by a discussion on a biometrics solution to encryption.

[video link]

So nice! I am a big fan of Charles Arthur and he has done it again in – See how the information garden grows: Visualising data can help us to better make sense the world.

via: TEDBlog Data at Play post.

And while we’re discussing data, play and art, here is another fine data art installation at the US Statistical HQ! The mind boggles!

Census Art - Jason Salavon

All form and color are derived from US state and county information, 1790-2000. More details here.

Jason Salavon has produced some incredible light & data visualizations!

via: Information Aesthetics

Imagine a cyberinfrastructure that builds a data archive! Well the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US has a massive call for proposals to build just that a Sustainable Digital Data Preservation and Access Network Partners (DataNet) I am so jealous of those folks!  Canada has no equivalent to an NSF and does not invest in the future access of data at all!  The Canadian Digital Information Strategy document will be released for public consultation in October but it is no where near as comprehensive as the Cyberinfrastructure work.  The Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery is well worth reading.

Spacingmontreal.ca and spacingtoronto.ca are:

your hub for daily dispatches from the streets of Toronto/Montreal to cities around the world, offering both analysis and a forum for discussion. Our contributors examine city hall, architecture, urban planning, public transit, transportation infrastructure and just about anything that involves the public realm of our cities.

Both blogs are published by spacing magazine.

The NYTimes has a great interactive multimedia article about the effects climate change on Arctic sea ice melting. The module is simple, explains the basics and is accompanied by some wonderful maps. (See two of the five images from the article below).

With the Arctic ice melt comes the opening of the seas and land, increased potential for exploration and fishing combined with international claims to the region accompanied by questions of sovereignty. This article Spatial Data Infrastructure: Implications for Sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic in particular speaks to that issue.

Currently in Canada there is excellent research ongoing in the Arctic as part of International Polar Year (IPY) and some projects are incorporating indigenous knowledge into climate research such as the Inuit Sea Ice Use and Occupancy Project (ISIUOP). IPY is innovative in many ways, in the case of the mandate of this blog and CivicAccess.ca the data policy is fantastic. To receive funding IPY researchers have to share their data and to archive them. There is also an IPY portal that will disseminate results. It is very rare to see funding tied to dissemination and preservation in this way. The IPY Data Policy is well worth reading and emulating in other contexts. Here is a small portion of what is in the

In accordance with

  • the Twelfth WMO Congress, Resolution 40 (Cg-XII, 1995
  • the Thirteenth WMO Congress, Resolution 25 (Cg XIII, 1999)
  • the ICSU 1996 General Assembly Resolution
  • the ICSU Assessment on Scientific Data and Information (ICSU 2004b)
  • Article III-1c from the Antarctic Treaty
  • the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Data Exchange Policy

and in order to maximize the benefit of data gathered under the auspices of the IPY, the IPY Joint Committee requires that IPY data, including operational data delivered in real time, are made available fully, freely, openly, and on the shortest feasible timescale.

The only exceptions to this policy of full, free, and open access are:

  • where human subjects are involved, confidentiality must be protected
  • where local and traditional knowledge is concerned, rights of the knowledge holders shall not be compromised
  • where data release may cause harm, specific aspects of the data may need to be kept protected (for example, locations of nests of endangered birds or locations of sacred sites).

ICSU (2004b) defines “Full and open access” as equitable, non-discriminatory access to all data preferably free of cost, but some reasonable cost-recovery is acceptable. WMO Resolution 40 uses the terms “Free and unrestricted” and defines them as non-discriminatory and without charge. “Without charge”, in the context of this resolution means at no more than the cost of reproduction and delivery without charge for the data and product themselves.

Collaborative natural science has always aimed at disseminating and sharing results and finally there is some teeth and financial backing to support that spirit.

Summer Sea Ice NYTimes

Cloud Cover

Data Sources: National Snow and Ice Data Center; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; William Chapman, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign; Donald K. Perovich, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory; Institute of Environmental Physics. 

Module Authors: Erin Aigner, Jonathan Corum, Vu Nguyen/The New York Times.

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