Bipartisan legislation seeks to keep previously-opened government data online

Sen. Cory Gardner (USGLC / Flickr)

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A new bipartisan bill seeks to ensure that all openly published federal data remains so, and in a machine-readable format.

The Preserving Data in Government Act introduced Thursday “would require federal agencies to preserve public access to existing open datasets, and prevent the removal of existing datasets without sufficient public notice,” according to a news release. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., introduced the bill.

The crux of the bill is that “any open Government data that is made available to the public for a period of not less than 90 consecutive days shall (1) remain machine-readable, available in an open format, and part of the worldwide public domain or, if necessary, published with an open license; and (2) not be altered in such a way as to decrease the machine-readable nature of the open Government data.”

The bill comes after many have fretted that data paid for by taxpayer dollars could disappear under different Trump administration priorities. In February an event was held in D.C., for example, to make copies of some of that data, one of many events that had taken place around the country.

“Research data that has been collected using taxpayer dollars should be publicly accessible and easily searchable,” Peters said in a statement. “Small businesses and individuals rely on federally produced information for everything from long-term planning to innovative product development to help grow their companies and create jobs. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Gardner that will help ensure that taxpayer-funded data remains publicly and openly available for innovators to use as they work to solve our country’s toughest challenges.”

Data produced by federal agencies has to be preserved under the Federal Records Act, but there is no law that requires open data remain open, or available in a machine-readable format, the release notes.

“Once data has been published and made available to the public, it should remain available to the public,” Gardner said. “Whether it’s a technology entrepreneur working on their next innovation or a retailer seeking better weather forecasting to help organize shipments, data is utilized to achieve numerous goals and plays a critical role in improving processes and our daily lives. I’m proud to work with Senator Peters on legislation that ensures government data remains readily accessible in an appropriate manner and that we continue to prioritize government transparency.”

The bill has the backing of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation and Center for Data Innovation, which is run by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation think tank.

“Government data underpins billions of dollars of economic activity,” said Daniel Castro, Center for Data Innovation director, in a statement. “This legislation would create baseline standards for ensuring public access to previously-released government data, while giving federal agencies the flexibility they need to efficiently manage information. By establishing these protections for existing data, Congress would provide confidence to businesses and investors that the U.S. government will not arbitrarily or capriciously cut off access to public data. Moreover, this bill will help ensure that taxpayers have unfettered access to the data they have paid for.”

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Congress, Machine-readable data, open data, preserving data in government act, Sen. Cory Gardner, Sen. Gary Peters
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