Glasgow City Council has released a treasure-trove of open data. Nearly one-hundred datasets ranging from Live Traffic Information – to historic climate data. A fantastic boon for researches and open government enthusiasts.
But there’s a sting in the tail.
The majority of the datasets are under the Open Government Licence (OGL). That’s basically Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY 4.0).
Again, it is a fairly standard CC-BY style licence. But with an “interesting” addendum. It warns users:
You must not use any of the Information for an illegal or immoral purpose
Is this condition compatible with Open Data?
Where are your laws based?
What’s legal in my country may not be legal in yours. That’s always the tricky thing with the Internet – a laptop in Beijing can download a dataset from Glasgow and use it on computers in Montana – three very different jurisdictions. Luckily for us, the GOGL states:
This licence is governed by the laws of Scotland unless otherwise specified by the Information Provider.
There is a full list of Scottish Legislation available for your reading pleasure. How confident are you that you aren’t in breach of some archaic piece of Scots law? Would your dastardly plans leave you with a Not Proven verdict?
I’m struggling to think what illegal thing one could do with these data. Even if I used the Glasgow House Sales (1991-2013) data to commit a series of complex frauds – what’s the punishment for failing to comply with this clause?
if you fail to comply with them the rights granted to you under this licence, or any similar licence granted by the Licensor, will end automatically.
The Creative Commons licence has been tested in court several times – but I couldn’t find any examples where the works themselves had been used for anything illegal.
Personally, I am a moral relativist. There are no gods which define a perfect way to behave. Our morals clearly change over time – whether it is around homosexuality, divorce, self-defence, privacy, or copyright. And those morals are in constant flux around the world.
What constitutes an “immoral purpose” when it comes to Open Data?
I suppose I could take the Rail Station Facilities data, find out which stations are unstaffed, and use it to create a map of which stations can be graffiti’d without staff noticing. Is that immoral enough?
I struggle to think of anything which is immoral rather than illegal. Perhaps I could use CCTV Locations Operated by Community Safety Glasgow to cheat on my wife without being caught on camera. Would that breach the licence?
Who gets to decide what usage is immoral?
Is this Open Data?
I don’t know. The wording seems vague and unenforceable. Once you have released Open Data it is open. You can impose some conditions on how it is used, sure. But they need to be precise and easily understandable across the world.
What do you think?
Continue the conversation on Twitter:
Here's an interesting conundrum.
Is @GlasgowCC's Open Data License…
A) Legally enforceable?
B) Compatible with Open Data?
C) A pragmatic and sensible restriction?https://t.co/63KpsXQyUt#OpenData #ImmoralPurposes pic.twitter.com/zxIbvQIidy
— Terence Eden (@edent) November 30, 2018
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