Earlier this year, I wrote my first published data story with the Telegraph. Based upon a Freedom of Information request placed by open data Adrian Short in October 2010, the story was found inside the first One million Barclays Cycle Hire journeys data. After the request was made, the first word from TfL on whatdotheyknow.com was a smattering of the first 100 journeys to wet our appetites with the promise of more, very soon.
Those familiar with attempting to extract data from a public body will be familiar with what happened next. The promised delivery date of 14th December 2010 came and went without any data being released. Eventually on 5th January 2011, the data was made public, nearly three months after the initial request was made.
Eager journalists like myself pounced and many wondrous goods were produced. My story on the funding gap garnered some traction on Twitter and some blogs. The more creative folks created maps for the most popular journeys, routes by the most popular bikes and an interactive map of everything.
However, Adrian was not so happy about the release. Even with the considerable delay in the release stage, the data itself was not freely available, as he believed it would be. As part of the internal review (due to the late release), he requested they examine why one has to register to download the CSV file.
The internal review concluded that they broke the law by not providing the data within the required timeframe but stated registration was required because the act does not “automatically give the recipient the right to re-use information.” This is their logic behind requiring user registration – to track who is downloading the data and where it is being used.
As a strong advocate of open data, Adrain finalised the issue with a scathing blog post on his love of the Boris Bikes and TfL’s data policy. To summarise what he said:
So not only is TfL’s contract explicitly asking me to state my motive as a precondition of access, it also constrains me from using the information for any other purpose and arguably prevents me from using that information to criticise TfL, thereby causing it “detriment” or bringing it into “disrepute”. If I don’t agree to this they can deny access altogether and if I subsequently break the agreement in their view they can revoke access. This is a funny kind of free information.
And he is most certainly right. The Freedom of Information Act exists to allow the public to the receivers of their money to account and anyone should be allowed to follow the path.
But despite pretentions of security, anyone can actually download the data by visiting this link here. If the FOI department wishes to protect their data, then leaving it on a publically accessible address is not the best way to go.