Tuesday 15 May 2007

First postgraduate qualification in information rights

Thanks to Sarah Higgins who brought the Information and Rights Practice LLM course at Northumbria University to my attention.

The course covers the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 together with the common law duty of confidence and the right to privacy protected by the ECHR.

You can find more details at the university’s website.

The Blawg may be quiet for a while as I’m off on my holidays. Au revoir!

Friday 11 May 2007

Got 20 minutes? (Taking open data to another level)

I know. Who has? But if you can find it I really recommend watching this video (brought to my attention by Peter Suber on the SPARC Open Data list – thank you!). It’s a very interesting presentation by Hans Rosling where he de-bunks a few myths about the "developing" world. Rosling is professor of international health at Sweden's world-renowned Karolinska Institute. He is also the founder of Gapminder, a non-profit that brings vital global data to life.

In the first 15 minutes he provides a fascinating overview of the changes that have occurred in the world over the last 40 years in terms of child survival rates, average number of children per woman, life expectancy at birth, distribution of income, GDP per capita. The graphics he employs to make this understandable and engaging are wonderful. In the last 5 minutes he turns to the issue of the availability and usability of data (digital curation bells!!)

Rosling poses the question “why are we not using the data we have?” and answers:

“The data is hidden down in the databases. And the public is there, and the Internet is there but we have still not used it effectively. All that information we saw changing in the world [in the demonstration] does not include publicly funded statistics. There are some web pages like this …but people put prices on them, stupid passwords and boring statistics. And this won’t work!”

He then asks, "what is needed?" His answer - "linking data to design."

That’s where Gapminder comes in. The website describes its purpose as:

“… filling a gap. There has been a market failure in distributing global data. A lot of people are interested in the data, but don’t get access to it (and if they manage to access the data, they need to be advanced skilled statisticians to analyze it). Gapminder wants to make data more accessible and easier to use for instant visual analysis. We believe decision makers, politicians as well as education at almost all levels lack adequate tools.”
The software is proving popular with many. Ben Hyde has blogged:
"These gapminder charts are just marvelous. They are a exemplar of what we should expect from data presentation going forward. Printed data’s days are numbered."

My main thought here is that better access to the data and greater understanding of what it demonstrates can only be a good thing in terms of international health and development.

But also, the software is not limited to use with international health data. The usefulness of its application to all types of data is ripe for exploration!

See Peter Suber's blog post on this topic

Image by Ilya Eric Lee on Flickr CC-NC-ND

Internet users more powerful than the law?

An interesting news item on out-law.com about a company at the forefront of the user-generated content movement that has chosen to risk legal action that may spell termination for the company, in place of disappointing its users. Digg, a website that ranks news stories according to its readers votes, has received cease and desist letters from entertainment companies after a number of its leading stories this week contained details of a secret code which unlocks the anti-piracy systems of DVDs.

Digg.com originally deleted the stories but after a massive user backlash allowed the stories to be posted In a U-turn that could open them to legal action.

Encryption codes like the one revealed on Digg are covered by the U.S.'s 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a controversial piece of legislation (read the U.S. Copyright office summary here).

Fred von Lohman, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in his blog that sites which carry the code or links to it are unlikely to be able to use a traditional defence of 'safe harbor'.

"While no court has ruled on the issue, AACS (the trade group for Advanced Access Content System Licensing) will almost certainly argue that the DMCA safe harbors do not protect online service providers who host or link to the key."

Read the out-law.com news item here

See more about this story in:

The New York Times

The LA Times

The Guardian


Financial Times

Image by Darwin Bell on Flickr CC-BY-NC