Open Security Data  22.10.11

The European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda from the Dutch conservative-liberal VVD party, Neelie Kroes, announces an “ambitious EU Open Data Strategy“. It seeks to “encourage more openness and re-use of public sector data” by a Public Sector Information Directive. The Commission is planning to set up an “Open Data portal” for the European Commission, later to be supplemented by a “pan-European Open Data portal”.

This is indeed going to be huge, potentially at least. We have seen plenty of these geeky apps and web sites that make use of publicly available data and create some clever mashups. The usual meme of Open Data advocacy is that it fosters transparency, openness, enhances citizens’ say in public matters and thereby strengthens democracy and what else. For all this open data hipness and siren songs, it remains to be seen whether the advantages will be evenly distributed among citizens, who might receive enhanced or innovative public and non-public services, entrepreneurs entering the markets with some fresh and bright ideas bureaucrats haven’t thought of and ICT behemoths, which most likely will seize the opportunity and kick outtasking into new spheres to sell software, iron and services.

A litmus test to the openness and transparency rhetoric is, as always, the area of security. Will there be a section in COM’s portal labelled “internet security” or “cyber security”? In Brussels, the draft Directive on “judicial cooperation … on combatting attacks against information systems” is still under consideration. Article 15, paragraph 3 states:

Member States shall transmit the data collected according to this Article to the Commission. They shall also ensure that a consolidated review of these statistical reports is published.

Here we have a perfect opportunity for the EC to display its willingness for openness of public sector data. In addition to merely releasing consolidated statistics about the internet-based crimes, a more open approach appears to be perfectly feasible. We still lack reliable, deep knowledge about the scale of the internet security problem. Publicly accessible data will be very helpful to overcome this deficiency and thus to provide the knowledge base for sound political decisions.

Open Data often tends to focus on low-hanging fruits such as geographic data, administrative documents and similar kinds of public service raw data. The one and only area however that truly impacts transparency of governmental action is security. Security is often is grotesquely secretive, security organisation shielded from public scrutiny. With legitimate force entirely concentrated in their hands, these institutions both protect citizens and society, but also, by definition, pose a threat once organisational culture, political oversight and political independence become non-optimal. Hence, democratic governance requires security organisations that are open to public oversight to the maximum degree possible without endangering societal security interests.

While Open Data “merely” requires to add public interfaces to existing data warehouses, Open Security Data admittedly needs a thorough analysis on which data is safe for publication and which isn’t. It shouldn’t be that hard though to make statistical cyber-crime databases public. For a start.