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Data BC draws praise, criticism

By Sara Norman

Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director, FIPA. (MICHAEL MUI/24 HOURS)

Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director, FIPA. (MICHAEL MUI/24 HOURS)

You shouldn’t have to put in a Freedom of Information Request to get every piece of information out of the government.” Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director, FIPA.

B.C. is leading the country when it comes to access to information and open data, according to Richard Pietro, host of a cross-country tour aimed at teaching people about data and citizenship.

Pietro claims the B.C. government’s open data policies are setting the example for the rest of Canada.

“It is a leader,” says Pietro of the province’s website, Data BC, which he calls one of the most well-respected access to information sites across the country.

But Vincent Gogolek, executive director of BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, counters that while there are some useful documents, most of Data BC is only what government sees fit for release.

“Information is a right, but government prefers to see it as a privilege,” says Gogolek, pointing to the fact government audits and contracts are still not published on the site without someone first filing a request.

Not only is voluntarily released information limited, but Gogolek says FIPA had to take the province to court to get access to B.C.’s outsourcing contracts with IBM. “When government finally gave up after losing every step of the way, they said they would be posting them in the future,” he said. “Well, they’re not, or they are doing it in a haphazard way.”

Gogolek adds the whole process took more than eight years.

“In general, government is really good at collecting data, but terrible at publishing information,” says Pietro.

Simply putting a PDF or Excel sheet online is not enough, he warns.

Municipalities and provinces should, he said, look at how people use information, make their systems more user-friendly and technologically forward, stressing open data is not a political issue, but a tool.

His tour came to Vancouver Tuesday night, with a few local government representatives, technology companies and Vancouverites getting together to chat about how to better engage citizens with information.


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