This Week in Open and Communications Data Land…
Following the official opening of the Open Data Institute (ODI) last week, a flurry of data related announcements this week:
- A big one for stats fans with the release of 2011 Census data by the ONS: 2011 Census, Key Statistics for Local Authorities in England and Wales. A few charts appear to have made it into the mix (along with the data to generate them), which I guess sets the baseline for whoever lands the currently advertised Head of Rich Content at the ONS job…
The data files associated with press releases are published as Excel spreadsheets. I guess this reflects, in part, the need to come up with a container that can cope with all the metadata. It’s a bit of a pain, though. One thing I keep meaning to explore further are ways of bundling data in R packages, along with scripts for analysing and visualising the data so bundled (eg US Census Spatial and Demographic Data in R: The UScensus2000 Suite of Packages or US consumer expenditure survey (ce) in R). I probably should also look again at Google’s Dataset Publication Language (DSPL) as well as other packaging formats. I need to check out the latest major release from the W3C Provenance Working Group too…
- Over at BIS, £8 million of investment in open public data is announced, the major chunk of which goes to the Data Strategy Board (#datastrategy) Breakthrough Fund to help public bodies get over short term technical barriers to releasing open public data. I keep wittering on about mapping out data flows that already exist and then finding ways to tap into them directly, so won’t repeat that here;-) A smaller pot, administered by the ODI, will be available to SMEs via the Open Data Immersion Programme. Also announced, the Ordnance Survey will be widening the availability of its range of mapping data.
- Not sure if I missed this when it was presumably announced? The Data Strategy Board’s chair Stephan Shakespeare (CEO of YouGov Plc) is leading an independent review of public sector information (here are the (draft) terms of reference). I’m not sure how this review fits into the reports to the tangle of reporting lines associated with the Data Strategy Board and the Public Data Group (the latter seems to have been very quiet?). I also wonder where the ODI fits into that whole structure?
- The funding around public open data coincided with a written Ministerial statement form the Cabinet Office that provided an Update on Departmental Open Data Commitments and adherence to Public Data Principles (>original link on a gov.uk domain, h/t @owenboswarva). The update is spectacularly lacking in linking to any of the raw data that is summarised in the actual statement, so so much for any actual transparency there… The same minister, Francis Maude, has also been fulfilling his social media obligations with a piece in the Huffington Post on A Practical Vision for Open Government. (In other news, at the micro/pragmatic level of open public data, I’m still finding that week on week releases of NHS sitrep data show minor differences in formatting and occasional errors…)
Things have been moving on the Communications Data front too. Communications Data got a look in as part of the 2011/2012 Security and Intelligence Committee Annual Report with a review of what’s currently possible and “why change may be necessary”. Apparently:
118. The changes in the telecommunications industry, and the methods being used by people to communicate, have resulted in the erosion of the ability of the police and Agencies to access the information they require to conduct their investigations. Historically, prior to the introduction of mobile telephones, the police and Agencies could access (via CSPs, when appropriately authorised) the communications data they required, which was carried exclusively across the fixed-line telephone network. With the move to mobile and now internet-based telephony, this access has declined: the Home Office has estimated that, at present, the police and Agencies can access only 75% of the communications data that they would wish, and it is predicted that this will significantly decline over the next few years if no action is taken. Clearly, this is of concern to the police and intelligence and security Agencies as it could significantly impact their ability to investigate the most serious of criminal offences.
N. The transition to internet-based communication, and the emergence of social networking and instant messaging, have transformed the way people communicate. The current legislative framework – which already allows the police and intelligence and security Agencies to access this material under tightly defined circumstances – does not cover these new forms of communication. [original emphasis]
Elsewhere in Parliament, the Joint Select Committee Report on the Draft Communications Data Bill was published and took a critical tone (Home Secretary should not be given carte blanche to order retention of any type of data under draft communications data bill, says joint committee. “There needs to be some substantial re-writing of the Bill before it is brought before Parliament” adds Lord Blencathra, Chair of the Joint Committee.) Friend and colleague Ray Corrigan links to some of the press reviews of the report here: Joint Committee declare CDB unworkable.
In other news, Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement of DNA tests to revolutionise fight against cancer and help 100,000 patients was reported via a technology angle – Everybody’s DNA could be on genetic map in ‘very near future’ [Daily Telegraph] – as well as by means of more reactionary headlines: Plans for NHS database of patients’ DNA angers privacy campaigners [Guardian], Privacy fears over DNA database for up to 100,000 patients [Daily Telegraph].
If DNA is your thing, don’t forget that the Home Office already operates a National DNA Database for law enforcement purposes.
And if national databases are your thing, there always the National Pupil Database which was in the news recently with the launch of a consultation on proposed amendments to individual pupil information prescribed persons regulations which seeks to “maximise the value of this rich dataset” by widening access to this data. (Again, Ray provides some context and commentary: Mr Gove touting access to National Pupil Database.)
PS A late inclusion: DECC announcement around smart meter rollout with some potential links to #midata strategy (eg “suppliers will not be able to use energy consumption data for marketing purposes unless they have explicit consent”). A whole raft of consultations were held around smart metering and Govenerment responses are also published today, including Government Response on Data Access and Privacy Framework, the Smart Metering Privacy Impact Assessment and a report on public attitudes research around smart metering. I also spotted an earlier consultation that had passed me by around the Data and Communications Company (DCC) License Conditions; here the response, which opens with: “The communications and data transfer and management required to support smart metering is to be organised by a new central communications body – the Data and Communications Company (“the DCC”). The DCC will be a new licensed entity regulated by the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (otherwise referred to as “the Authority”, or “Ofgem”). A single organisation will be granted a licence under each of the Electricity and Gas Acts (there will be two licences in a single document, referred to as the “DCC Licence”) to provide these services within the domestic sector throughout Great Britain”. Another one to put on the reading pile…
Putting a big brother watch hat on, the notion of “meter surveillance” brings to mind BBC article about an upcoming (will hopefully thence be persistently available on iPlayer?) radio programme on “Electric Network Frequency (ENF) analysis”, The hum that helps to fight crime. According to Wikipedia, ENF is a forensic science technique for validating audio recordings by comparing frequency changes in background mains hum in the recording with long-term high-precision historical records of mains frequency changes from a database. In turn, this reminds me of appliance signature detection (identifying what appliance is switched on or off from its electrical load curve signature), for example Leveraging smart meter data to recognize home appliances. In context of audio surveillance, how about supplementing surveillance video cameras with microphones? Public Buses Across Country [US] Quietly Adding Microphones to Record Passenger Conversations.