How to determine if a dataset is sensitive or not?

I came across this excellent article titled, Best practices for sharing sensitive environmental geospatial data, by AMEC Earth and Environmental. It is a relevant article considering that at present there is no consistent and reliable mechanisms to access the political, social, economic sensitivity of the datasets. And secondly, the topic becomes even more important with the evolving discourse on the best practices an organisation may apply to identify sensitive datasets before sharing them with the community.

I had briefly touched on this topic in one of my previous blog (Circles of Open Government Data) wherein I attempted to visualise the complete OGD landscape to propose that out of all the datasets we must open datasets which have the least security or privacy concerns.

The article by AMEC Earth and Environmental takes this concept a step further to propose a set of factors to analyse when identifying datasets with security, privacy, legal and regulatory concerns. The article reviews international best practices and guides (such as 2006 Environics Survey) to develop the “generic” framework specifically focussing on the geospatial data. With this article, the author aims to provide “practical guidance to individuals and organisations interested in developing their own sensitive [environmental geospatial] data sharing policies and protocols.”

As per the article, the set of factors on which the geo-spatial datasets must be analysed to access its sensitivity are as follows:

  1. Legislation/Policies/Permits – Will opening up the dataset lead to any legal, regulatory, or policy issues?
  2. Confidentiality – Is the dataset considered confidential? Will opening this up be detrimental to interests of the stakeholders?
  3. Natural Resource Protection – Will the use of the information from the dataset lead to degradation of an environmentally significant site or resource?
  4. Cultural Protection – Is the dataset culturally sensitive? Will it lead to degradation of culturally significant site or resource?
  5. Safety and Security – Will opening up the dataset lead to safety and security concerns? Can the information be used to endanger public health and safety?

This report was commissioned by the Government of Canada, specifically GeoConnections, the program responsible for delivering Canada’s geospatial data to Canadians via the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure.  The fact that the government is doing this kind of research and asking these questions is really encouraging.

To me article brings out two very important points:

Firstly, that the result of this decision making process to identify the sensitive datasets is highly subjective. As the perspectives on the sensitivity of the datasets vary may widely based on “context (time and recent events), an organization’s regulatory environment (legislation, policy, competition, etc.), jurisdictions and the personal views of Data Contributors/Owners/Custodians.”

Secondly, that the long term sharing of datasets must be based on the principles of “trust, risk management, the credibility of the participating organizations and their overriding desire to disseminate information”, which I believe are the key ingredients of any successful open government data initiative.

Although the factors outlined in the model are more relevant to the environmental geo-spatial datasets, with minor modifications these factors can be used for other datasets as well. After reading this article I think that we must aim to take this framework with its set of factors and try to formulate a much more generic framework based on which we can analyse the sensitiveness of the datasets. Just wondering what the readers think about this? It will be interesting to read comments on whether we can use some of these factors to analyse other datasets (such as crime data, governance data etc.)? What changes do we need to make to these factors to make this decision making process more suitable to these datasets?

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About Ankit Sharma

Born in Kashmir, Alumni of London School of Economics, Currently working for the Royal Bank of Scotland, Living in London with absolute passion and hope in the user of Information Technology to solve social problems.
This entry was posted in Geo-spatial data, OGD Participation, Open Government Data. Bookmark the permalink.

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