The Continuing Disaster Of Open Government In Germany
from the surprising-failures dept
Recently, Techdirt noted that the European “database right” could pose a threat to releasing public data there. But that assumes that central governments are at least trying to open things up. A splendid piece by Sebastian Haselbeck on the Open Gov Germany blog, with the self-explanatory title “German government screws up open data,” underlines that things can fail because the government itself sabotages transparency moves.
As he recounts, things began so well. The German government commissioned a study on open data, which was published in August last year. It’s a massive, 572-page document put together with commendable thoroughness. A key section is the introduction from the German Interior Minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, who made the following comments:
The [German] federal government has set itself the goal of a more open government and administration. The basis for this is freely available data and information that must be available for others and in standardized formats.
That all sounds great — open data made freely available in standard formats to promote open government. But then things started to go downhill, culminating in the horribly symbolic decision to name a new site not “Open Government Portal Germany” as originally planned, but just “GovData — the data portal for Germany”. In other words, some data, but without the openness. As Haselbeck comments:
Following the development the last few weeks it seemed clear that the conservative elements in the higher echelons either just did not get what it means to finally go “open government” in the data dimension, or they were just too scared to follow through.
Experts can but shake their heads, and sigh at the squandered opportunities of this government, which would love to be very innovative in economic dimensions, but is actually a very backwards cabinet with lots of conservatives in key positions and a liberal coalition partner that is mostly occupied with its own ultra-low poll numbers.
What’s worrying is that this high-profile retreat is part of a larger failure to improve transparency in Germany. Haselbeck explains:
All this adds to a series of disasters in open government in Germany. One is the stubborn denial to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP), along with the partners in crime Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. As an act of spite, they formed the “DACHLi” (the acronym for the countries’ licence plate IDs) initiative, a series of workshops and cooperation agreements to mostly push information exchange and open data cooperation in a way that they have nothing to fear from it, and provide ample platforms for lobbyists to talk CIOs into purchasing proprietary IT solutions for “open” government. All the while, you can count the actual attempts for more cultural and managerial change towards openness with one hand. Another of those disasters is the government’s battle against a community-built Freedom of Information platform (fragdenstaat.de) and its failure to make publicly accessible studies produced as part of the parliamentary research service (after all, paid by the taxpayer). A third thing comes to mind: the failure to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption, along with a handful of other rogue states, because it would require reform of the federal criminal code that would tighten rules for politicians’ leeway to accept campaign donations and stricter transparency on their side-jobs. Look it up, Germany is in good company there, even Myanmar is ratifying the convention.
It’s sad to see such a generally tech-savvy nation fall behind here, as other countries open up their government and its data ever-more deeply. That’s a loss not just for German society, through diminished political transparency, but also for the burgeoning number of digital start-ups in cities like Berlin, which are deprived of a key 21st-century raw material: government data.