menu

Rights-Based and Tech-Driven: Open Data, Freedom of Information, and the Future of Government Transparency

January 20, 2017 by Beth Simone Noveck

Access this Publication
Open data policy mandates that government proactively publish its data online for the public to reuse. It is a radically different approach to transparency than traditional right-to-know strategies as embodied in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislation in that it involves ex ante rather than ex post disclosure of whole datasets. Although both open data and FOIA deal with information sharing, the normative essence of open data is participation rather than litigation. By fostering public engagement, open data shifts the relationship between state and citizen from a monitorial to a collaborative one, centered around using information to solve problems together. This Essay explores the theory and practice of open data in comparison to FOIA and highlights its uses as a tool for advancing human rights, saving lives, and strengthening democracy. Although open data undoubtedly builds upon the fifty-year legal tradition of the right to know about the workings of one’s government, open data does more than advance government accountability. Rather, it is a distinctly twenty-first century governing practice borne out of the potential of big data to help solve society’s biggest problems. Thus, this Essay charts a thoughtful path toward a twenty-first century transparency regime that takes advantage of and blends the strengths of open data’s collaborative and innovation-centric approach and the adversarial and monitorial tactics of freedom of information regimes.