Tag Archives: Research Theme 3: Laws Norms Rights & Code

Citizen Science and Intellectual Property: A Guide for the Perplexed

citizen science image

Citizen scientists help researchers transcribe historical climate records and photograph natural phenomena.

By Naomi Bloch

The concept of the science hobbyist —­ the backyard astronomer staring up at the sky or the amateur ornithologist taking part in the annual Christmas bird count — is hardly a new one. What is notable today, however, is the scale and scope of new collaborations between research institutions and volunteer citizen scientists. These kinds of citizen science partnerships have inspired a new study by Geothink co-applicant Teresa Scassa and doctoral candidate Haewon Chung, called “Managing Intellectual Property Rights in Citizen Science: A Guide for Researchers and Citizen Scientists.”

Chung, now a Geothink Ph.D. student researcher at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, is interested in intellectual property (IP) law with a particular focus on digital ethics. Scassa is a Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa. The two researchers will participate in a panel discussion and launch of their new work at the Wilson Center Commons Lab, in Washington, D.C., on December 10.

Teresa Scassa head shot

Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa

“Part of the point of the guide is to encourage people to take a proactive approach and think about what they want to get out of the citizen science project, and what they need to get out of the citizen science project,” Scassa said. “For example, if you need to publish your research results, or if you need to keep your data confidential because you’ve got private sector funding that requires that, how do you structure the IP side of things so that you can do that?”

Citizen science, broadly construed, involves the participation of non-professional scientists in scientific data gathering and the production of new scientific knowledge. In the realm of Geothink, this generally takes place in the context of volunteered geographic information (VGI) and contributions to geographic knowledge. Some projects may involve volunteers helping with laborious tasks such as transcribing historical climate data. In other cases, participants may be sharing geocoded photos or video footage, recording audio, or producing text narratives. In countries like the U.S. and Canada, such original, creative efforts are inherently protected by copyright law — something participants themselves may not even realize.

Do you copy?

The 80-page report is divided into three parts, beginning with a concise review of relevant areas of intellectual property law including copyright, patent, trademark and trade secret law, as well as specific considerations involved in the protection of traditional knowledge. Though copyright law differs around the world, essentially copyright grants certain exclusive rights to the authors of creative works. These rights usually include the right to control how work is distributed, reproduced, and re-used. “It’s also significant because it arises inadvertently,” said Scassa.

Unlike other types of intellectual property such as patents, in many countries the creator is automatically granted copyright protections without taking any specific legal actions. “There are going to be copyright issues with respect to any website that’s created, and with respect to many different types of contributions that users might make, whether they’re text-based or photographs or video clips or whatever they might be,” Scassa said. “There are copyright issues with respect to compilations of data. And then, of course, those copyright issues are relevant if, for example, the researcher decides to publish in a closed access journal and the participants want access to those research results, and all these sorts of things.”

When institutional researchers initiate citizen science projects, there are commonly expectations regarding eventual publication of findings, data sharing, posting information online, as well as educational and civic aims. “Depending on the nature of the project, the users may expect to have total access to the research results — to any publications, but maybe also to all of the data that’s been gathered,” said Scassa. “So we encourage the researchers who are creating citizen science research projects to think about what the user community may be expecting from them in terms of the project design.”

Ethics and law in the balance

In the second section of the study, the authors explore some of the ethical issues that arise in light of IP law. This includes everything from appropriate attribution to uses of participants’ contributions as well as research output. “If you’re going to be collecting stories or traditional knowledge from a community, for example, then that’s going to result in some intellectual property,” Scassa said. “And the ethical requirements may be different from the bare legal requirements. Part of it is being aware of what the legal defaults are and how those might need to be altered in the context of the relationship that you have with your participants.”

Scassa notes that researchers’ relationship with citizen scientists is generally one among many. “Researchers at universities have a complex web of relationships,” Scassa said. “Their universities have IP policies; those IP policies might provide that all IP stemming from this research may belong to the university and not the researcher, so they may not be able to promise certain things in their projects. Their funders may have expectations, and their publishers may have expectations. They may also have expectations in terms of the ability, perhaps, at some point in the future to patent some of their research. So they have this complex web of relationships and their relationship with citizen scientists is one of those relationships. We encourage them to think about this web of relationships and these expectations and try and design accordingly.”

To help with this process, the third section of the study guides readers through the various types of licensing options that can be applied. The authors provide diverse examples from real-world citizen science projects both local and global, and a toolset to help project designers as well as participants understand their options. “We don’t want to create barriers,” Scassa said. “It’s a really complex area. We’re trying to make it as accessible and as useful as possible, just to try to get people thinking about these ideas.”

The Wilson Center panel discussion, “Legal Issues and Intellectual Property Rights in Citizen Science,” takes place at the Wilson Center Commons Lab, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Dec. 10, 11am –12:30pm ET. There will be a live webcast of the event.

Interested in learning more about intellectual property law and citizen science? Reach out to Teresa Scassa on Twitter: @TeresaScassa.

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Naomi Bloch, Geothink’s digital journalist, at naomi.bloch2@gmail.com.

GIS in the Classroom: Geography and the Law

GIS DayBy Naomi Bloch


This Wednesday, November 18, marks the 16th annual GIS Day. Throughout the week, Geothink will present a series of posts looking at some of the ways in which our collaborators, partners, and friends around the world are critically examining and using GIS as a tool for civic engagement and understanding.
The community snapshots presented this week highlight diverse perspectives and uses for GIS. 

Tenille Brown headshot

Tenille Brown, Ph.D. candidate in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law

In the winter 2016 term, Geothink’s Tenille Brown, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, will be teaching a new course called Law and Geography. The seminar course will be offered as a first-year elective option for J.D. students. “It’s really exciting because it will be the first law and geography course in a Faculty of Law in Canada that I am aware of,” said Brown.

The intention of the course is to introduce new law students to the emerging field of legal geography, which focuses on spatial and place-based aspects of law and legal regulation. The course description highlights several focus areas, including public and private spaces; property and the city; critical perspectives of identity, racism and the law; gender, property and the law; indigenous peoples and the environment; and globalization. “There’s a wide variety of topics,” said Brown, “and within that I have a couple of classes which will look at issues of GIS and a lot of the themes of Geothink in relation to legal geography scholarship and in relation to the law.”

Brown notes that GIS is addressed in the legal literature to some extent, but such discussion is in its nascent stages. For example, the field of technology law deals with liability issues in relation to GIS, and issues such as copyright and privacy. “And there’s a little bit of GIS analysis in relation to understanding crime, and criminality,” said Brown. “That’s a big area of research, but I think there are many, many, many GIS narratives which are not captured at all.”

All of these GIS-oriented legal issues will play a role in her course, however she’s also hoping to draw in some students who have previous practical experience with GIS technologies. “If there are students who have a particular interest in GIS or have skills in GIS, and they’re willing, then we can explore not just legal liability in relation to GIS but also, how can we use GIS to help the functioning of the legal system? So really opening it up for those skills to be brought into the classroom.”

“I’m interested in knowing how information about a place, which is maybe more than property-related, can influence how we regulate or understand a particular area of a city, for example,” Brown said. “How can we bring in different information about a city that is not captured by a property title deed, or a traditional survey that we might have? We see a lot of non-traditional information collection right now. That is, it’s non-traditional from a legal perspective — information about how people use a place. Typically the law doesn’t care about that. Typically the law just wants to know who has the title deed, and that’s it.”

Brown offers the example of First Nations groups in Canada, who are currently using GIS and GIS technologies to collect oral histories and map out their histories spatially. “There’s a big push from indigenous communities, and a willingness and a desire to engage with GIS technologies to capture these different narratives,” Brown said. “And they’re wanting to use it to support land claims. That’s they’re whole aim.

“So it’s important to figure out how modern information can be incorporated into a legal system which relies on historical treaties,” Brown explained. “There’s a lot of legal questions about using that information and the strength of that kind of information from an evidentiary perspective. The law has a very non-GIS approach — a non-tech approach — to adjudication. So I think one of the really important questions is, how can we get this modern GIS counter-narrative and make sure that it’s solid as evidence that is effective for the legal system?”

For Brown, encouraging students with a GIS or geography background to consider how their knowledge can contribute to the legal process is just one motivation for her course. “They’re first-year law students,” Brown said,  “so they’re just beginning to get to grips with what takes place in the Faculty of Law. They’re in shock a little bit, at this point. With this class, I’m really hoping to open it up for students that already have an undergraduate degree in something spatial-related. If there’s anyone who’s done work with GIS, that will definitely enrich the classes.”

Do you have questions about Tenille’s course or research? Contact her on Twitter at: @TenilleEBrown 
Tenille Brown is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. She is a Geothink student member, and a member of the university’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre. Her research is in the areas of legal geography, including property, spatial and citizen engagement in the Ottawa context.


For more of Geothink’s GIS Day coverage, see:

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Naomi Bloch, Geothink’s digital journalist, at naomi.bloch2@gmail.com.

Crosspost: Canada’s Information Commissioner Tables Recommendations to Overhaul Access to Information Act

The Access to Information Act was first passed by parliament 1983 (Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org).

The Access to Information Act was first passed by parliament in 1983 (Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org).

This post is cross-posted with permission from Teresa Scassa, from her personal blog. Scassa is the Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa.

By Teresa Scassa

Canada’s Access to Information Act is outdated and inadequate – and has been that way for a long time. Information Commissioners over the years have called for its amendment and reform, but generally with little success. The current Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault has seized the opportunity of Canada’s very public embrace of Open Government to table in Parliament a comprehensive series of recommendations for the modernization of the legislation.

The lengthy and well-documented report makes a total of 85 recommendations. This will only seem like a lot to those unfamiliar with the decrepit statute. Taken as a whole, the recommendations would transform the legislation into a modern statute based on international best practices and adapted both to the information age and to the global movement for greater government transparency and accountability.

The recommendations are grouped according to 8 broad themes. The first relates to extending the coverage of the Act to certain institutions and entities that are not currently subject to the legislation. These include the Prime Minister’s Office, offices of Ministers, the bodies that support Parliament (including the Board of Internal Economy, the Library of Parliament, and the Senate Ethics Commissioner), and the bodies that support the operations of the courts (including the Registry of the Supreme Court, the Courts Administration Service and the Canadian Judicial Council). A second category of recommendations relates to the need to bolster the right of access itself. Noting that the use of some technologies, such as instant messaging, may lead to the disappearance of any records of how and why certain decisions are made, the Commissioner recommends instituting a legal duty to document. She also recommends adding a duty to report any unauthorized loss or destruction of information. Under the current legislation, there are nationality-based restrictions on who may request access to information in the hands of the Canadian government. This doesn’t mean that non-Canadians cannot get access – they currently simply have to do it through a Canadian-based agent. Commissioner Legault sensibly recommends that the restrictions be removed. She also recommends the removal of all fees related to access requests.

The format in which information is released has also been a sore point for many of those requesting information. In a digital age, receiving information in reusable digital formats means that it can be quickly searched, analyzed, processed and reused. This can be important, for example, if a large volume of data is sought in order to analyze and discuss it, and perhaps even to convert it into tables, graphs, maps or other visual aids in order to inform a broader public. The Commissioner recommends that institutions be required to provide information to those requesting it “in an open, reusable, and accessible format by default”. Derogation from this rule would only be in exceptional circumstances.

Persistent and significant delays in the release of requested information have also plagued the system at the federal level, with some considering these delays to be a form of deliberate obstruction. The Report includes 10 recommendations to address timeliness. The Commissioner has also set out 32 recommendations designed to maximize disclosure, largely by reworking the current spider’s web of exclusions and exemptions. The goal in some cases is to replace outright exclusions with more discretionary exemptions; in other cases, it is to replace exemptions scattered across other statutes with those in the statute and under the oversight of the Information Commissioner. In some cases, the Commissioner recommends reworking current exemptions so as to maximize disclosure.

Oversight has also been a recurring problem at the federal level. Currently, the Commissioner operates on an ombuds model – she can review complaints regarding refusals to grant access, in adequate responses, lack of timeliness, excessive fees, and so on. However, she can only make recommendations, and has no order-making powers. She recommends that Canada move to an order-making model, giving the Information Commissioner expanded powers to oversee compliance with the legal obligations set out in the legislation. She also recommends new audit powers for the Commissioner, as well as requirements that government institutions consult on proposed legislation that might affect access to information, and submit access to information impact assessments where changes to programs or activities might affect access to information. In addition, Commissioner Legault recommends that the Commissioner be given the authority to carry out education activities aimed at the public and to conduct or fund research.

Along with the order-making powers, the Commissioner is also seeking more significant consequences for failures to comply with the legislation. Penalties would attach to obstruction of access requests, the destruction, altering or falsification of records, failures to document decision-making processes, and failures to report on unauthorized loss or destruction of information.

In keeping with the government’s professed commitments to Open Government, the report includes a number of recommendations in support of a move towards proactive disclosure. The goal of proactive disclosure is to have government departments and institutions automatically release information that is clearly of public interest without waiting for an access to information request that they do so. Although the Action Plan on Open Government 2014-2016 sets goals for proactive disclosure, the Commissioner is recommending that the legislation be amended to include concrete obligations.

The Commissioner is, of course, not alone in calling for reform to the Access to Information Act. A private member’s bill introduced in 2014 by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau also proposes reforms to the legislation, although these are by no means as comprehensive as what is found in Commissioner Legault’s report.

In 2012 Canada joined the Open Government Partnership, and committed itself to an Action Plan on Open Government. This Action Plan contains commitments grouped under three headings: Open Information, Open Data and Open Dialogue. Yet its commitments to improving access to information are focussed on streamlining processes (for example, by making it possible to file and pay for access requests online, creating a virtual library, and making it easier to search for government information online.) The most recent version of the Action Plan similarly contains no commitments to reform the legislation. This unwillingness to tackle the major and substantive issues facing access to information in Canada is a serious impediment to realizing an open government agenda. A systemic reform of the Access to Information Act, such as that proposed by the Information Commissioner, is required.

What do you think about Canada’s Access to Information Act? Let us know on twitter @geothinkca.

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

Torts of the Geoweb: (or the liability question) Part I

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Mapping Ottawa’s open data on tobogganing hills (Photo courtesy of ottawastart.com)

By Tenille Brown, PhD student in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa

Recently, on March 3rd as part of the continuing Geothink Project, I hosted a Twitter chat about tort liability with Mapping Mashups. This online forum was joined by Geothink partners and friends and the primary topic discussed was the role of tort law and how and where it fits in the context of the Geoweb, liability and moral responsibility. One active participant of this Twitter discussion was British academic Muki Haklay, a collaborator on the Geothink project more broadly, and Haklay later wrote up some highlights from this discussion, available here. I have been considering the role of tort liability in multiple contexts for some time now, both prior to the online discussion and subsequent to it. I have not been thinking of this idea so much in a typical “finding a problem” lawyerly way, but more in a “trying to understand the allocation of responsibility” kind of way. From the legal perspective, questions about how we should handle the mountains of data collected and produced by governments and citizens alike, jumps out at me. For these reasons I chose to place the focus of the Twitter chat on tort liability rather than the challenges of protecting the privacy of personal information, or copyright issues in geospatial information, which have been discussed elsewhere.

With the increase in platforms and data sources (both government and volunteered) on the geoweb, there is also an increase in opportunities for legal liability to attach to this information. With Canadian cities releasing data sets of all types of information, from proposed roadways to beach water sampling data, the liability question is not hypothetical, but of increasing importance. Of course, cities are carrying out their due-diligence by ensuring personal information does not get released, following the principles of the open government license. But still, some questions remain to be answered such as, what legal tools are in place to deal with third parties who take government information and use that information in a way that causes harm?

One example that immediately comes to mind is the use of open data to create apps for the reporting of pot-holes through cities 311 app, as happens in Toronto. A more apt example for Ottawa is the recently released information about hills open to tobogganing throughout the city, which was collated in a map here. Does liability attach to this information? If so, would information which highlights any hazards on the hill amount to a defence in a negligence action? How would we assign liability if citizenship were to take government data and create an open data app which contains outdated data?

In his write-up about the chat, I think Muki Haklay framed this problem correctly as an ethics problem. Haklay writes, Somehow, the growth of the geoweb took us backward. The degree to which awareness of ethics is internalised within a discourse of ‘move fast and break things‘, software / hardware development culture of perpetual beta, lack of duty of care, and a search for fast ‘exit’ (and therefore IBG-YBG) make me wonder about which mechanisms we need to put in place to ensure the reintroduction of strong ethical notions into the geoweb. As some of the responses to my question demonstrate, people will accept the changes in societal behaviour and view them as normal… In fact, tort liability principles recognize that if a wrong has been committed (sometimes even without intent), then the person who committed the harm might be required to compensate the individual. The very basis of tort law is that we ought to provide remedies for those wronged. Based on this aim, the courts don’t always uphold contracts of adhesion (which seek to limit liability).

The principles of tort liability understood as a matter of ethics and responsibility, provides opportunities for the prevention of harm and the accountability of government. This has long been recognized in the New York context, where the law stipulates that should a person trip on the sidewalk (or pothole), the city is only liable if it has been reported. To ensure reporting, every year the Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Corporationmaps out the cracks, holes and potholes throughout the city (and here). For its part, Toronto reports it has filled in almost 50,000 potholes in 2015 to date and over the past years there has been a 40% increase in drivers receiving compensation from pot-hole induced damage to cars. (The same report does not detail the number of complaints that have been made by the 311 reporting service).

The twitter conversation demonstrates that legal analysis questions, such as who has standing to bring a legal claim, who bears legal responsibility for information, and which courts have jurisdiction, are only the beginning of tort legal questions. A second analysis begs that we understand data in a larger framework which takes into account duties and responsibilities. Focusing on the prevention of harm, we could argue, that there should be a larger set of core activities or areas for which liability cannot be contracted out. These core areas presumably would pertain to the health, safety and well-being of citizenship, particularly that they be tailored to protect the interests of those who cannot be expected to know the details of tortious liability, nor necessarily how to navigate geoweb activities.

Tenille Brown is a PhD student in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa and a Geothink student member. Her research is in the areas of legal geography, including property, spatial and citizen engagement, in the Ottawa context.

She can be reached on twitter, @TenilleEBrown and via email, Tenille.Brown@uottawa.ca.

Crosspost: Geoweb, crowdsourcing, liability and moral responsibility

This post is cross-posted with permission from Po Ve Sham – Muki Haklay’s personal blog. Muki is a Geothink collaborator at the University College London and the co-director of ExCiteS.

By Muki Haklay

Yesterday [March 3rd, 2015], Tenille Brown led a Twitter discussion as part of the Geothink consortium. Tenille opened with a question about liability and wrongful acts that can harm others

If you follow the discussion (search in Twitter for #geothink) you can see how it evolved and which issues were covered.

At one point, I have asked the question:

It is always intriguing and frustrating, at the same time, when a discussion on Twitter is taking its own life and many times move away from the context in which a topic was brought up originally. At the same time, this is the nature of the medium. Here are the answers that came up to this question:

 

 

You can see that the only legal expert around said that it’s a tough question, but of course, everyone else shared their (lay) view on the basis of moral judgement and their own worldview and not on legality, and that’s also valuable. The reason I brought the question was that during the discussion, we started exploring the duality in the digital technology area to ownership and responsibility – or rights and obligations. It seem that technology companies are very quick to emphasise ownership (expressed in strong intellectual property right arguments) without responsibility over the consequences of technology use (as expressed in EULAs and the general attitude towards the users). So the nub of the issue for me was about agency. Software does have agency on its own but that doesn’t mean that it absolved the human agents from responsibility over what it is doing (be it software developers or the companies).

In ethics discussions with engineering students, the cases of Ford Pinto or the Thiokol O-rings in the Discovery Shuttle disaster come up as useful examples to explore the responsibility of engineers towards their end users. Ethics exist for GIS – e.g. the code of ethics of URISA, or the material online about ethics for GIS professional and in Esri publication. Somehow, the growth of the geoweb took us backward. The degree to which awareness of ethics is internalised within a discourse of ‘move fast and break things‘, software / hardware development culture of perpetual beta, lack of duty of care, and a search for fast ‘exit’ (and therefore IBG-YBG) make me wonder about which mechanisms we need to put in place to ensure the reintroduction of strong ethical notions into the geoweb. As some of the responses to my question demonstrate, people will accept the changes in societal behaviour and view them as normal…

See the original post here. twitter

Spotlight on Recent Publications: Teresa Scassa at the Intersection of Intellectual Property Rights and Municipal Transit Data

By Drew Bush

faculty_olympics

Teresa Scassa is Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa.

This story was originally reported on Teressa Scassa’s personal blog which you can find here.

In a paper just published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, Geothink researcher Teresa Scassa argues that the actual laws governing intellectual property (IP) rights are often surprisingly irrelevant in disputes over rights to municipal transit data. Instead, she finds that being in a position to make a claim to IP rights is often more important than actually having a good claim.

“How people decide to interact with each other is more important than what their precise legal rights might be,” Scassa, the Canada research chair in information law at University of Ottawa, wrote in an e-mail to Geothink.ca. “Often, to understand the precise boundaries of those rights it is necessary to litigate and one or both parties may lack the resources to go to court. So, in those circumstances, parties may reach an understanding of how they will set the boundaries of their relationships.”

Her paper, entitled Public Transit Data Through an Intellectual Property Lens: Lessons About Open Data, examines some of the challenges presented by the transition from ‘closed’ to open data within the municipal context. She completed the paper as part of a Geothink project examining open data in a concrete context that’s particular to municipalities.

“In the municipal transit data context, there was generally an imbalance of resources between developers and municipalities, and there was little desire on either part to go to court,” she added. “Nevertheless, in the early days, municipal transit authorities asserted their IP rights using cease and desist letters. This assertion of IP rights was met with arguments about the need for open data, and eventually compromises were reached around open data that shifted over time, and varied from one municipality to another.”

In the paper, she examines how these legal developments have impacted the use of real-time transit data by developers seeking to make use of this data in digital applications and corporations hoping to add value to products and services they offer. In particular, the paper covers three types of data: 1) Route maps; 2) Static data (such as bus timetables that only change seasonally); 3) And, real-time GPS data generated by units installed on transit vehicles.

A number of municipalities exerted their IP rights over such data because of concerns that ranged from ensuring its quality and authenticity to preserving the ability to make data available on a cost-recovery basis.

“The emerging open data movement shifted some of these concerns and created a new set of expectations and practices around open municipal transit data,” she wrote in her e-mail. “As data become more complex (with the advent of real-time GPS data, for example) the IP issues shifted and changed again, raising new questions about open data in this context. This is where the next phase of my research will take me.”

To find out more about Teresa Scassa’s work, visit her personal blog here or follow her on Twitter @teresascassa. For more on IP, check out another of her recent papers (written with Univeristy of Ottawa doctoral student Haewon Chung) that analyzes various types of volunteer citizen science activities to determine whether they raise legal questions about IP ownership.

Find a link to the article along with its abstract below.

Public Transit Data Through an Intellectual Property Lens: Lessons About Open Data

This paper examines some of the challenges presented by the transition from ‘closed’ to open data within the municipal context, using municipal transit data as a case study. The particular lens through which this paper examines these challenges is intellectual property law. In a ‘closed data’ system, intellectual property law is an important means by which legal control over data is asserted by governments and their agencies. In an ‘open data’ context, the freedom to use and distribute content is a freedom from IP constraints. The evolution of approaches to open municipal transit data offers some interesting examples of the role played by intellectual property at every stage in the evolution of open municipal transit data, and it highlights not just the relationship between municipalities and their residents, but also the complex relationships between municipalities, residents, and private sector service providers.

If you have thoughts or questions about the article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

Privacy Challenges in Open Government

By Teresa Scassa

The public-oriented goals of the open government movement promise increased transparency and accountability of governments, enhanced citizen engagement and participation, improved service delivery, economic development and the stimulation of innovation. In part, these goals are to be achieved by making more and more government information public in reusable formats and under open licences.

The Canadian federal government has committed to open government, and is currently seeking input on its implementation plan. The Ontario government is also in the process of developing an open government plan, and other provinces are at different stages of development of open government. Progress is also occurring at the municipal level across Canada, with notable open data and/or open government initiatives in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa (to give a few examples).

Open government brings with it some privacy challenges that are not explicitly dealt with in existing laws for the protection of privacy. While there is some experience with these challenges in the access to information context (where privacy interests are routinely balanced against the goals of transparency and accountability), this experience may not be well adapted to developments such as open data and proactive disclosure, nor may it be entirely suited to the dramatic technological changes that have affected our information environment.

In a recent open-access article, I identify three broad privacy challenges raised by open government. The first is how to balance privacy with transparency and accountability in the context of “public” personal information (for example, registry information that may now be put online and broadly shared). The second challenge flows from the disruption of traditional approaches to privacy based on a collapse of the distinctions between public and private sector actors. The third challenge is that of the potential for open government data-even if anonymized-to contribute to the big data environment in which citizens and their activities are increasingly monitored and profiled.

I invite you to have a look at this article, which is published in (2014) 6 Future Internet 397-413.

Teresa Scassa, Canadian Research Chair in Information Law

Paper Spotlight: “Enabling Access and Reuse of Public Sector Information in Canada” by Elizabeth Judge

Enabling Access and Reuse of Public Sector Information in Canada: Crown Commons Licenses, Copyright, and Public Sector Information

Elizabeth Judge

University of Ottawa – Common Law Section
October 14, 2010

Abstract: 

Although the proactive disclosure of public sector information has been called a “basic right of citizens” and a “public right,” Canada has not yet implemented a national strategy to support public access to public sector information and enable its reuse. Public sector information, which is information created by government in the course of governing, is essential for transparency, accountability, democratic participation, and citizen engagement. This article examines public sector information and analyzes developments in Canada and other jurisdictions to promote its public access and reuse. It discusses the extent to which public sector information has been integrated into copyright reform efforts and, where public sector information is copyright protected, it discusses the mechanisms available within the copyright framework to facilitate public access and reuse of public sector information, focusing in particular on licensing. In Canada, Crown copyright restrictions and complicated licensing limit access to public sector information. The article recommends that Canada establish a centralized portal for open government data and implement Crown Commons licenses, which together would advance the objective of open government data by ensuring that public sector information is accessible online in usable formats, easily found, and not encumbered by restrictive Crown copyright licensing conditions.

 

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: public sector information, open government data, government data, open access, Crown Copyright, Creative Commons, copyright