Open for whom? The role of intermediaries in data publication

Annemarie Balvert & Gijs van Maanen

For about ten years, governments have been experimenting with ‘open government’ and ‘open data’. Stimulating a transparent and open government by publishing data is thought to be a new phase in the democratization and emancipation of citizens. Open data enthusiasts (sometimes) argue that these advantages are to be achieved through the dissemination of data to ‘intermediaries’, and not necessarily to the average citizen. Groups like journalists, data-analysts and activists are considered to be the pathways through which governmental data is and should be transformed into information and communicated to the public.

Within the legal environment of access to government information, the notion that intermediaries have a more pressing claim to government information seems to allow for an analogy to the so-called ‘public watchdog’ approach the ECtHR has taken under article 10, related to freedom of expression. Article 10’s remit can cover a limited right to information, but only for those performing this watchdog function. However, in many of the laws dealing more directly with government information, the implicit or explicit criterion is that ‘anyone’ has the same access in principle.

In this essay, we analyse the role and function(ing) of intermediaries in the context of Dutch open data policy from two different perspectives. In our legal analysis, we explore the linkages between various international levels touching upon a right to information and Dutch open data policy. From the perspective of political philosophy, we question the distinction drawn between intermediaries and the public, in terms of data and information dissemination. To what extent does it make sense to differentiate between citizens on the basis of their function or job? What is the moral difference between a journalist and a citizen in this respect? The expectations of access to government information are sky-high. To what extent are we subcontracting them?



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