Tony Clement concern about electronic information access queried – Politics – CBC News

Further to earlier news reports, further confirmation of a Minister not having thought things through, not to mention mixed messaging on the Open Data initiative:

Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s dire warning about why the government can’t release certain electronic data under access to information requests seems to have left his senior staff mystified, newly disclosed documents show.

In an interview late last year, Clement said that some database requests under the Access to Information Act can’t be released in their original electronic format because the numbers could be manipulated and “create havoc.”

At the time, Clement was responding to complaints that requests for electronic data often produced records in paper form that couldn’t  be scrutinized by a computer for patterns.

“That’s the balancing act that we have to have, that certain files, you don’t want the ability to create havoc by making it changeable online,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview.

But emails from Clement’s senior staff show the statement left them puzzled about why their minister would make the claim.

“It’s a headscratcher for me. Any idea what the minister is referring to?” wrote one staffer after checking the morning headlines on Dec. 23.

“It’s a speculative thing, no actual occurrence to date … I can’t think of what has not been released due to this perspective,” wrote another — Patrick McDermott, senior manager for open government systems at the Treasury Board secretariat. “What prompts this comment now is a mystery to me.”

For several years, Clement has been touting the Harper government’s proactive online posting of federal databases for free downloading, partly to encourage businesses to mine the data for profit. Canadian corporations trail their counterparts around the world in capitalizing on so-called “big data.”

‘I’m a bit surprised that the [minister] would raise this’

– email from Treasury Board official

The Open Data Portal now offers more than 240,000 free datasets, the vast majority from Natural Resources Canada, apparently without any concern that someone might use them to spread “falsehoods.”

At the same time as pushing this data, though, federal departments have come under fire for failing to deliver individual, non-published datasets requested under the Access to Information Act in their original format, often recreating them in censored paper versions.

Requesters asking for datasets under the Access to Information Act are sometimes given paper versions instead, making it impossible to use computers to sort data.

Departments have offered different explanations for delivering in paper format, but Clement’s comment was the first time a government official claimed the paper copies were designed to foil any statistical mischief.

“I’m a bit surprised that the [minister] would raise this — everyone in the OG (Open Government) community … is aware of the risk that data/info may be misused/applied/quoted etc. .. but that’s just the nature of the beast,” McDermott wrote.

“The trick is to rebut the ‘falsification,’ not speculatively prevent it from happening in the first place.”

In substance, completely silly and just making it hard for those of us who need and use government data on a regular or occasional basis.

Tony Clement concern about electronic information access queried – Politics – CBC News.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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