Late June, I will be contributing to a course of the The Hague Academy for Local Governance on Integrity and Anti-Corruption efforts. My part in this course will look at the role and use of open data and transparency efforts.
How open data helps create transparency, like public procurement data, land registry and land banks data, ultimate beneficial ownership data, public spending, (farming) subsidies, politicians expenses, etc. and the role of ‘many eyes’ in such cases.
I will certainly talk about how open data can create new agency, levelling the playing field between citizens and government entities (like local budget monitoring does). Also the role of investigative journalism (like Follow the Money here in NL), especially the cross-border variety, leaks, novel research groups like Bellingcat, and crowd sourced efforts to wade through large responses made to Freedom of Information requests, mapping impact of civil war, or detecting war crimes. All examples of, let’s call it ‘Data Driven Daylight’. I probably will also need to talk a bit about data provenance and data governance, as well as how understanding the basics of technology is a prerequisite if you have a role in preventing and detecting integrity and corruption issues.
My experiences in open data, work for the World Bank, and the UNDP (for which I contributed to an anti-corruption training a few years ago), as well as my role as board member of the leading Dutch transparency NGO Open State Foundation will be the basis.
Last month 27 year old Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak was murdered, together with his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. As an investigative journalist, collaborating with the OCCRP, he regularly submits freedom of information requests (FOI). Recent work concerned organized crime and corruption, specifically Italian organised crime infiltrating Slovak society. His colleagues now suspect that his name and details of what he was researching have been leaked to those he was researching by way of his FOI requests, and that that made him a target. The murder of Kuciak has led to protests in Slovakia, and the Interior Minister resigned last week because of it, and [update] this afternoon the Slovakian Prime Minister resigned as well. (The PM late 2016 referred to journalists as ‘dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes‘ in the context of anti-corruption journalism and activism)
There is no EU, or wider European, standard approach to FOI. The EU regulations for re-use of government information (open data) for instance merely say they build on the local FOI regime. In some countries stating your name and stating your interest (the reason you’re asking) is mandatory, in others one or both aren’t. In the Netherlands it isn’t necessary to state an interest, and not mandatory to disclose who you are (although for obvious reasons you do need to provide contact details to receive an answer). In practice it can be helpful, in order to get a positive decision more quickly to do state your own name and explain why you’re after certain information. That also seems to be what Jan Kuciak did. Which may have allowed his investigative targets to find out about him. In various instances, especially where a FOI request concerns someone else, those others may be contacted to get consent for publication. Dutch FOI law contains such a provision, as does e.g. Serbian law concerning the anticorruption agency. Norway has a tit-for-tat mechanism built in their public income and tax database. You can find out the income and tax of any Norwegian but only by allowing your interest being disclosed to the person whose tax filings you’re looking at.
I agree with Helen Darbishire who heads Access Info Europe who says the EU should set a standard that prevents requesters being forced to disclose their identity as it potentially undermines a fundamental right, and that requester’s identities are safeguarded by governments processing those requests. Access Info called upon European Parliament to act, in an open letter signed by many other organisations.