Oct 14

A story about when public data was too big, and maybe not so public after all

How open is Sweden to open data? Charlotta Duse investigates.

A daily routine at the local newspaper where I work, and at many others, is that the news chief goes to the town hall to fetch the daily public documents. In these documents one finds correspondence between institutions, decisions made in the municipality, prosecutions, judges, new guidelines, construction permits etc; basically anything that goes on nearby. 

Anyone can get these documents, the data is public and protected by the principle of public access (http://www.regeringen.se/content/1/c6/24/55/92/61c8bc18.pdf): a principle to make sure that the democratic system can be looked into, as well as to promote civic participation. Just as we saw in Abigails post Open Data, transparency is, and should be, one part of ”the good” of open data.

After getting the daily documents, the editorial sorts out what is of interest for its readers. (It should be pointed out that this is no objective process – here lies a big risk of misinterpretation, focus on some things while ignoring others, judging what is public interest and what is not etc.) After choosing the happenings of interest the reporter write his or her article based on the document, a document often written in a complicated language, in a manner that anyone can understand the information given in it.

But some time ago, colleagues in Kalmar had troubles getting access to these public papers. The reason? 

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