Takeaways from the City’s Draft Open-Data Policy

Takeaways from the City’s Draft Open-Data Policy

Image via Shutterstock

Councilman Mark Kersey showed off the fruits of a bipartisan push for more open data citywide Wednesday: a draft policy that, if approved by the City Council, would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Here are the five big takeaways:

The city’s first chief data officer would help agencies put the policy into practice.

The policy would enable the mayor to appoint a chief data officer, who would be in charge of “all facets” of the policy.

The policy would make this person responsible for developing a technical manual for agencies to follow when trying to put their information into machine-readable form.

Machine-readable form means that you would be able to view and analyze the information with a variety of computer software programs, many of which are free.

The chief data officer would also help agencies identify what kinds of information they could release easily and what kinds would take more time to prepare.

You would be able to download data from an online library linked to the city’s main website.

Not all data would be open.

Public-records laws generally include a list of circumstances that agencies can cite when they don’t think they should release information.

Under this policy, you would not be able to access data if an agency invoked one of seven exemptions. These exemptions fall into a few broad categories:

• Other laws would prohibit the city from releasing the data

• The information is sensitive, confidential or related to ongoing legal matters

• The information is considered purely internal and, in theory, would have no value to the public

One exemption sticks out: Data that exists “solely on an agency-owned personal computing device” or “on a portion of a network that has been exclusively assigned to a single agency employee” would not be considered public.

This provision could potentially be abused if an official decided to keep information that should be public on city-issued cell phones or tablet computers.

On the other hand, it would also allow officials to protect information that should be confidential.

The city will ease into the process.

Agencies would start by taking information that they’ve already released publicly and putting it into a form that is easier to analyze. From there, they would move to information that should be public but hasn’t been released yet.

This will take a while.

The deadline for transforming all public information into data would be Dec. 31, 2018.

The chief data officer would post a data-release schedule online.

Accuracy is not guaranteed.

While the chief data officer would urge agencies to put complete and accurate data online, the official would have no power to punish agencies for not complying with the policy.

This is perhaps the policy’s biggest flaw.

Nothing would prevent the chief data officer from telling the public about gaps and problems he or she sees in the data. But if there are no penalties for failing to comply with the policy, then agencies may release data in a way that favors officials’ careers over the public interest.

Input is welcome.

Kersey has posted the draft policy online, and his office is accepting comments from the public before the policy goes up for a Rules Committee vote in late October or early November.

Much of the policy is technical — and it has to be — but this is your chance to tell the city what information you would like to access easily in the future.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


Joel Hoffmann

Joel Hoffmann

Joel Hoffmann is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government, the San Diego Unified School District and the Unified Port of San Diego. You can reach him directly at joel.hoffmann@voiceofsandiego.org.

  • 38 Posts
  • 29
    Followers

Show comments
Before you comment, read these simple guidelines on what is not allowed.

8 comments
Gina Jacobs
Gina Jacobs

Thanks for covering this important issue. This represents our work with civic minded volunteers. We have yet to discuss it at committee but when we do, we expect there will be many ideas that are brought forward as we all come together to create the best policy for San Diego.

Gaby Dow
Gaby Dow

Great overview of what can be an overly complex process and policy combining technical specs with agency "intent." I'm glad you closed with the importance of obtaining public input -- especially from those of us that have a background in e-Goverment and entrepreneurship as this will ultimately make city departments more efficient while creating new business opportunities for techies that find ways to have the usable city data improve life for members of the public.

Gaby Dow
Gaby Dow subscriber

Great overview of what can be an overly complex process and policy combining technical specs with agency "intent." I'm glad you closed with the importance of obtaining public input -- especially from those of us that have a background in e-Goverment and entrepreneurship as this will ultimately make city departments more efficient while creating new business opportunities for techies that find ways to have the usable city data improve life for members of the public.

Serge Dedina
Serge Dedina

This needs to improve, but at least the City of San Diego is working on a policy. It is important for good government advocates in San Diego to help identify the gaps in this plan so that there is a model for the rest of San Diego County to follow.

Serge Dedina
Serge Dedina subscriber

This needs to improve, but at least the City of San Diego is working on a policy. It is important for good government advocates in San Diego to help identify the gaps in this plan so that there is a model for the rest of San Diego County to follow.

Seth Hall
Seth Hall

Hi Joel - thanks for the look. Can we find out what is up with the seemingly oxymoronic term "agency-issued personal device"? Is that terminology used in other policies, and if so, how is it defined? To the layperson, it seems like if it is an agency-issued device, it is inherently not a personal device. Thanks.

Seth Hall
Seth Hall memberauthor

Hi Joel - thanks for the look. Can we find out what is up with the seemingly oxymoronic term "agency-issued personal device"? Is that terminology used in other policies, and if so, how is it defined? To the layperson, it seems like if it is an agency-issued device, it is inherently not a personal device. Thanks.

Joel Hoffmann
Joel Hoffmann

The language is odd. But I can see why it needs to be there. If you're, say, a government attorney and you have information that is typically privileged and confidential on your smartphone, it probably shouldn't be considered open data. That being said, it's still a government-issued device, made possible by taxpayer money. And someone could abuse the flexibility that such a clause could provide.