Government Information Policy Issues and Questions – By Steven Clift – 1994

I drafted this list while working for the State of Minnesota’s legislatively created Government Information Access Council way back in 1994 (Final GIAC report from 1997). Most of these questions are still relevant today. Back in the day this list of policy questions was circulated around the world. I posted it on some “Open Government” e-mail lists hosted by the then CCTA of the UK Government and recall a conversation where a civil servant thanked me for their timeliness as many of the questions were integrated into their early policy explorations. This in part planted a seed for the many UK government investments in e-democracy over the years.

Appendix A:

DRAFT:  FOR REVIEW AND COMMENT  (electronically released 11/15/94)

Government Information Policy Issues and Questions

This is an extensive draft list of policy issues and related questions that have been identified. Some of these policy questions may be easily resolved and others may take years to deal with appropriately.  The Government Information Access Council will need to determine which issues are of a _higher priority_ for emerging Working Groups to address and which issues will need to be considered by the Council and government over the long-term.

Many of the policy questions are meant to inform the process, but do not necessarily need to become part of the recommended principles to the legislature. It should be stressed that the Minnesota Data Practices Act already addresses many of these questions in some way or another.  A short summary of principles in the Data Practices Act follows:

1.  All government agencies must allow citizens to inspect (physically look at) public government data, free of charge.

2. If a citizen requests copies of public government data, an agency may charge the actual costs associated with providing copies.  Costs must be reasonable.

3. If a citizen asks for electronic transmission of copies of the data, and agency may charge for the actual costs of electronically transmitting the data.

4.  If a citizen asks for copies of data that have “commercial value” and that the were developed at significant cost to an agency, the agency may, in addition to copying costs, charge an add-on fee to recover a reasonable portion of the development costs.

5.  If the legislature has specifically authorized a fee for copies/electronic transmission, the agency may charge that fee.

Part of the Council report to the legislature this session will likely highlight the high priority issues.  The Council, with legislative input, will then produce policy recommendations and principles as required by the legislation.  This policy process is designed to run parallel electronic access demonstration projects.  These demonstration projects will inform the policy process and provide the experience required to make important policy decisions.

Please submit additional policy questions or comments to: Government Information Access Council Information Policy Office Minnesota Department of Administration 320 Centennial Office Building St. Paul, Minnesota 55155 (612)296-6451 – voice     (612)296-5800 – fax

The numbered (x) sections come directly from the legislation, 15.95 Section 20, Subdivision 5.

(1) the most effective and efficient means to make information available to the public in a manner that is designed primarily from the perspective of the citizen;

– How will citizens be involved in the development of information services?

– What new information technologies should be considered?

– How will government use a variety of information delivery methods (paper,  Internet/computers, fax-back, telephone, public kiosks, etc.) to broaden convenient, user-friendly access?

– How will electronic interaction between citizens and their government  develop (not  only with information services, but with government staff through such communication methods as electronic mail)?

– What changes might be needed in the regulatory environment to facilitate access to   and distribution of government information?

– How should a government unit balance the need to use emerging information  technologies with the use of generally accessible information technologies for information and service delivery?

– How should government avoid access barriers related to the use of new technology?

– What types of education efforts will be required to help citizens utilize emerging services?

– What types of education efforts will required to reorientate public agencies and employees toward a belief that providing information to the public is part of their mission as a public agency?

– What types of easy to use, intuitive, government information locator tools need to be developed?

(2) how to provide the greatest possible public access that is demand driven to the widest possible array of public government data and information maintained by state or local governments, including open access through libraries, schools,   nonprofit organizations, businesses, and homes;

– How will government units measure demand for information services?

– How should government units plan for and organize their own information services?

– What types of costs/benefits should be evaluated as part of providing greater public access?

– How should different levels of government organizations coordinate and present  their information electronically?

– What telecommunications and information networks exist or may exist for the provision of statewide “open access” through the sites listed above?

– What types of public, private, and citizen investments will be required to make this a reality?

– What regulatory reform will be needed to ensure competitive, statewide, reasonable cost telecommunication service for high-speed electronic access?

– What kind of regulatory reform will be required to help the state’s public telecommunications network ensure basic access to government information in electronic form statewide?

– How should the citizen interest or requests for public information be processed when they conflict with the priorities or mission of a government unit?

– What steps must government take to make sure emerging services are available to those with disabilities?  What issues does the Americans with Disabilities Act raise?

(3) what information should be made available free of charge directly from government agencies, in addition to information that is available for inspection free of charge under section 13.03, subdivision 3;

(4) what information should be sold, either by government agencies or through private businesses, and what factors should determine the prices that government should charge to citizens for providing information directly, and to businesses who will resell information;

QPlease see Data Practices Act summary above for context

– Along with the “Tools of Democracy” section, what guidelines can be developed to assist government units in the pricing or free access to information services? Sub-points follow: – How should GIAC carry out their duties from the “Tools of Democracy” section?

– When should an information service be fully subsidized by general taxpayers?

– When should the customer of a public information service be charged for the  delivery of that service?

– How should different types of government information (general mission-  related information like reports or brochures, information “tools of  democracy,” government transparency or inner-workings information, and *public* information on people or things) be treated from a principle or policy perspective?

– In an on-line information environment, how does the notion of “electronic  inspection” affect public access from local or remote sites?

– Should royalties be charged to businesses that resell government information?   Under what circumstances?  Can or should reuse be restricted?

– Should businesses be charged for government information if used for commercial purposes? How much?  Or what should be the charge for electronic access?

– Should taxpayers receive a “return” for investments in public information systems if the information in that system is used for non-governmental purposes?

– Should the end use of government information for charging purposes be discerned or documented?  How is commercial use/value defined?

– Should government information itself be sold by government for profit?

– Should fees for more convenient delivery of government services and licenses be developed?

– How are advanced interoperable telecommunications networks presenting new policy challenges?

– Which information delivery costs will likely be transactional based versus flat-fee  priced from the perspective of the government unit? (cost to provide X units of information versus cost to ensure X capacity for delivery)

– How will trends in telecommunications and Internet pricing affect longer-term information and service delivery plans?  How will these same trends impact the citizens ability to gain affordable access to information resources?

– If a government units loses revenue from the current sale of information services (commercial value, special statutory fee, data pricing exemption) , how should that revenue be replaced? What affect would this have on the state budget?

(5) how government can encourage the creation of new private business endeavors by making digital information available for the purpose of distributing enhanced government information services to citizens;

– How will businesses, community networks, and others likely repackage, enhance,  or provide links to government information services?

– How should the State encourage private and community on-line networks to provide direct access to Internet-based on-line information services?

– What types of government information should be promoted for the creation of new business endeavors?

– What are current Minnesota information industries doing to provide their own services and products in electronic form?  How will these private services interact with the public sector?

– How might tax policy facilitate the growth or development of private information businesses?

– How might tax policy improve the availability or access to government information services?

(6) what changes need to be made in governmental operations to assure that more government information is readily available to citizens, whether provided directly by government agencies or provided through private businesses;

(10) what technological changes governmental agencies need to make to facilitate electronic provision of governmental information, either directly to citizens, or to private businesses who will distribute the information;

– What types of training and education do government units and staff need to integrate electronic “store-fronts” and information transmission into their operations?

– What public finance and resource reallocation requirements will be required to  support electronic public access systems and access points?

– What kinds of issues need to be addressed in government to ease resistance, temper inadequate planning or prevent information system security risks?

– What statewide information resource management policies and standards need to be developed in the area of electronic access and service delivery?

– How will federal work on the Government Information Locator System (GILS) impact the provision of Minnesota government information in electronic form?

– How will the use of Internet applications like Gopher, the World-Wide-Web, and e-mail by other levels of government and commercial services affect the expectations of our citizens?

– What types of competitive/collaborative pressures may develop among levels and jurisdictions of government? (state, local, and federal)

– How should long-term electronic archiving issues be addressed? Where should key policy documents in electronic form be placed for research and historical analysis?

– How can government use information networks (like the Internet) as a resource for their own information needs?  How will this use impact their interest in providing information to the public electronically?

– What needs to be done to ensure that all citizens, at differing levels of educational attainment, literateness, economic status, access to institutions, can receive quick and supportive electronic access to government information and services?

– What role will state agency libraries have in the organization of agency information products and external Internet information resources relevant to the work of the agency?

– How will agency public information offices be involved in the development and dissemination of government information in electronic form?

– How might contributions by private corporations, foundations, or the Federal government be used to aid these general efforts?

– As information flows in and out of government increase, how should liability issues surrounding accuracy, timeliness, and officialness be approached so as to not constrain the usefulness of the emerging communications power?

(7) whether digital information should be made available on an exclusive or nonexclusive basis, and how different types of information should be treated differently for this purpose;

– Should a government information service be provided by a sole supplier(government or business)?

– Are there types of public digital information that should be provided on an exclusive basis?  Which should be non-exclusive?

– What types of arrangements should be made to promote access to government information services through commercial information services, libraries, community networks (like Free-Nets), and others on a non- exclusive basis?

– Are there kinds of public information that should be made available through public access terminals located at government units, but not through remote sites?

– How should the use of digital information on state issued licenses or identity cards for non-government purposes be viewed?

– Should digital information delivery be treated differently than other forms (paper,  microfilm, photographic)?

– If an exclusive provider system is used, how should government ensure that all the information they wish to see disseminated to the public is available at a reasonable cost?

(8) how the state and other governmental units can protect their intellectual property rights, while making government data available to the public as required in chapter 13;

– Should government agencies be allowed to claim intellectual property rights for government data beyond the current authority to do so for software programs and components of programs?

– What types of government information should/should never qualify as intellectual property?

– What intellectual property rights do government units hold?  Do governmental units currently express those rights?

– Does adoption of intellectual claims by agencies conflict with the presumption of public data in the Data Practices Act?

– If government claims of intellectual property are allowed, what methods for contesting claims should be established?  Court- based/non-court hearing? What about public access to public data that may at one point (in its final form) be claimed as intellectual property?

(9) the impact of data collection and dissemination practices on privacy rights of individuals;

– A lot of *public* information about individuals is held by government, should the method of access (electronic, on-site inspection, etc.) affect the core policy around whether it should be public or private?

– Will improved access and searching methods raise public concern over the use of public information on individuals? Or how has it already?

– What methods will individuals have to correct mistakes about them contained in  government data?

– Will individuals have the ability to securely view private information held about them from remote sites?

– How is the use of information technology increasing the amount of public information stored or available on individuals?  The demand for creative uses of that information?

– How might the increased ability to compile and utilize data for multiple purposes affect privacy?   How can the private sector use of personal information inform us of current uses and trends?

– What types of new government information might unknowingly be developed from the use of electronic information services? (transactional information, document retrieval information)

– How should encryption technologies be utilized when private or even public information flow through open networks?

– How should “fair information practice principles” be applied in the area of public information on individuals?

– How should citizens be made aware of government practices and use of public information on individuals?

– Should citizens have the right to determine access public information held about them?  Should businesses have the right to determine access to public information held about them? How will the use of government numbering systems (i.e. drivers license, social security numbers) outside of government impact individual privacy?

– How should the issue of “single-card” identification for multiple government purposes be addressed?  What are the current trends?  How should issues surrounding non-government use of digital government information kept on magnetic stripes be addressed?

– How should the responsibility for protecting individual privacy be distributed? (on the individual, government unit, private sector)

– In general, what should Minnesota’s public policy be on the social implications that are a result of decisions on information collection and dissemination be?

Q(10) is included with (6) above.

(11) how to avoid duplicating services available from private providers, except as necessary to achieve goals set in subdivision 7.

– What types of government information services are currently available from private providers?

– How can government encourage public-private collaborations to provide the greatest access to the greatest number of people? When should an information service based on government data not be provided by government?

– When should a base floor of access to government information be introduced to ensure that “tools of democracy” are available?

– What level of sophistication (search tools, indexing, etc.) should be developed for the dissemination of government information in electronic form?

– How much “value” should government add, if private providers all ready provide a valued-added service? (basic competition versus actual duplication)

Please submit additional policy questions or comments to:

Government Information Access Council Information Policy Office Minnesota Department of Administration 320 Centennial Office Building St. Paul, Minnesota 55155 (612)296-6451 – voice     (612)296-5800 – fax