Open Data Disclaimers and Terms of Service

7 Apr

I saw a tweet by @waldojaquith that commented on the State of NY Open Data Portals TOS. The TOS states that you cannot access the page

“…by using an automated device, script, bot, spider, crawler or scraper”

I can guess their intent is to prevent people from hitting the site with bots and overloading the server. But a device and script? This seems at best, too broad, at worst, ignorance as to how people will want to use the data. Furthermore, will I be prosecuted from doing so or will my IP address be blocked? Is this even enforceable? Can a government block a private citizen from a civic website?

This tweet made me curious about the city I live in – Albuquerque. I was dumbfounded by the content of their disclaimer/TOS. It read

“The City may require a user of this data to terminate any and all display, distribution or other use of any or all of the data provided at this website for any reason…”

Really? The City can call me and tell me to remove the bar chart of car thefts by month from my website because it is based on their data? Or, that I can no longer send the PublicArt.kmz file to someone?

I love Albuquerque Open Data. I find it quite useful and very good. So when the page says that

“The City makes no warranty, representation, or guaranty as to the content, accuracy, timeliness, or completeness of any of the data provided at this website.”

it makes me question the quality of the data. I get it, the data might be wrong, don’t hold it as gospel. Seems to be common sense to me. But this statement creates a distrust in the data. Is it authoritative? After reading the TOS, I would not take it to be.

If I were a gambling man, I would bet this is the work of the Legal Department. The same people that probably have email signatures saying if they send you confidential information by mistake you are in trouble for not deleting it. Yeah, I don’t think so Matlock. Saying it doesn’t make it true.

Government is made up of many departments. Those departments create a bunch of data. That data finds its way to an open data website probably run by the IT Department. The IT department just puts it out there and doesn’t really know anything about the data. They don’t make it so why would they stand by it? They point you to the department that made it. But that department probably didn’t care to release it in the first place and don’t want to be bothered exporting it or updating it. Or worse yet, fielding calls from citizens about it. But if someone is going to put out some data, there needs to be a level of trust or quality in the data.

Is it better to put out some data of quality by choice than to be legally obligated to provide it as the result of a FOIA request? I would imagine open data cuts down on a lot of those requests, saving a lot of time in money.

Once you put it out, please don’t think you have any control over what I do with it or who I send it to.

I do not know the answer so I am putting the question out there, and I did so on Twitter as well:

Has a City ever been sued for the quality of their open data?

 

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