Halifax wants an open data relationship

Proposed order will see swaths of city data released to the public

If you love something, set it free and maybe it’ll come back as a cool app. So hopes city council, which today will give first reading to a proposed administrative order designed to release multitudes of imprisoned data from within the city’s towering servers.

It’ll mean Halifax will finally formalize an “Open Data” program which will specifically outline the purpose, score, definitions and schedule of release for structured municipal datasets which have been created for the purposed of operating and managing the city.

First to be liberated will be info on tax area rates, contour data, spot heights, parking metres and pre-amalgamation boundaries. Future entries in the open data catalogue will be released at least once per year, based on public requests.

The move is a result of the Open Data Initiative the city enacted in 2012 that enabled the public release of a selection of HRM datasets free of charge. Seventeen datasets (featuring figures on trails, parks and recreation and solid waste collection) were released and downloaded close to 156,000 times between April, 2013 and January of this year. The city also hosted a “hackathon,” and an award ceremony in January for the best doing things with data the government didn’t think of.

Blue skies then, as “free and equal access to government data previously unavailable” will be had by all—except that data which is “confidential, sensitive, or contains personal information.”

The qualifications for what can and cannot be released to the public are mostly straightforward, but two items could prove themselves a future barrier to access. The data must be owned by HRM, or “for which the municipality has authorization from the owners of the datasets to release,” and the data must be “free of any legal or contractual obligations, or public safety restrictions, that requires it to be kept confidential.”

Both of those clauses could easily be used to keep hidden any requested government data that private entities are involved in, as there doesn’t appear to be a mechanism for releasing part of a dataset. Such info would still technically be available under a Freedom of Information request, but that office’s a little swamped these days.

The adoption of the open data program will also likely mean the repeal of Halifax’s geographic data dissemination policy. That 2006 item designated the classification and associated fees in requesting municipal data, and will now be redundant.

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