Open Data Policy Guidelines

The 8 Principles of Open Government Data

The following is from the 8 principles and the group’s wiki work following their meeting. New annotations are in white boxes.

Government data shall be considered open if it is made public in a way that complies with the principles below:

  1. Complete-All public data is made available. Public data is data that is not subject to valid privacy, security or privilege limitations.While non-electronic information resources, such as physical artifacts, are not subject to the Open Government Data principles, it is always encouraged that such resources be made available electronically to the extent feasible.“Bulk data” means that an entire dataset can be acquired. Even the simplest of applications, such as computing the sum of line items, requires access to the entire dataset. This principle also implies that bulk data should be made available before “APIs” are created because APIs typically only return small slices of the whole data.
  2. Primary-Data is as collected at the source, with the highest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms.If an entity chooses to transform data by aggregation or transcoding for use on an Internet site built for end users, it still has an obligation to make the full-resolution information available in bulk for others to build their own sites with and to preserve the data for posterity.
  3. Timely-Data is made available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data.This principle also appears in
  4. Accessible-Data is available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes.Data must be made available on the Internet so as to accommodate the widest practical range of users and uses. This means considering how choices in data preparation and publication affect access to the disabled and how it may impact users of a variety of software and hardware platforms. Data must be published with current industry standard protocols and formats, as well as alternative protocols and formats when industry standards impose burdens on wide reuse of the data.Data is not accessible if it can be retrieved only through navigating web forms, or if automated tools are not permitted to access it because of a robots.txt file, other policy, or technological restrictions.
  5. Machine processable-Data is reasonably structured to allow automated processing.The ability for data to be widely used requires that the data be properly encoded. Free-form text is not a substitute for tabular and normalized records. Images of text are not a substitute for the text itself. Sufficient documentation on the data format and meanings of normalized data items must be available to users of the data.The Association of Computing Machinery’s Recommendation on Open Government (February 2009) stated this principle another way: “Data published by the government should be in formats and approaches that promote analysis and reuse of that data.” The most critical value of open government data comes from the public’s ability to carry out its own analyses of raw data, rather than relying on a government’s own analysis.As part of this, the use of unique, numeric identifiers for entities mentioned in the data can help connect the data to other relevant information.
  6. Non-discriminatory-Data is available to anyone, with no requirement of registration.Anonymous access to the data must be allowed for public data, including access through anonymous proxies. Data should not be hidden behind “walled gardens.”This principle also appears in…Open Definition (2005) (“No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups”, “No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor”)
  7. Non-proprietary-Data is available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control. Proprietary formats add unnecessary restrictions over who can use the data, how it can be used and shared, and whether the data will be usable in the future. While some proprietary formats are nearly ubiquitous, it is nevertheless not acceptable to use only proprietary formats. Likewise, the relevant non-proprietary formats may not reach a wide audience. In these cases, it may be necessary to make the data available in multiple formats.
  8. License-free-Data is not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulation. Reasonable privacy, security and privilege restrictions may be allowed.Because government information is a mix of public records, personal information, copyrighted work, and other non-open data, it is important to be clear about what data is available and what licensing, terms of service, and legal restrictions apply. Data for which no restrictions apply should be marked clearly as being in the public domain.Requiring attribution to the government, even though attribution might be reasonable in other contexts, would constitute a major policy shift in the United States with significant legal implications for the press. The Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication can make a work license-free.

Compliance must be reviewable.


“public” means:

The Open Government Data principles do not address what data should be public and open. Privacy, security, and other concerns may legally (and rightly) prevent data sets from being shared with the public. Rather, these principles specify the conditions public data should meet to be considered “open.”“data” means:

Electronically stored information or recordings. Examples include documents, databases of contracts, transcripts of hearings, and audio/visual recordings of events.

While non-electronic information resources, such as physical artifacts, are not subject to the Open Government Data principles, it is always encouraged that such resources be made available electronically to the extent feasible.“reviewable” means:

A contact person must be designated to respond to people trying to use the data.

A contact person must be designated to respond to complaints about violations of the principles.

An administrative or judicial court must have the jurisdiction to review whether the agency has applied these principles appropriately.

About the research from an Workshop

Participants: Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org), Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly Media), Greg Elin (Sunlight Foundation), Micah Sifry (Sunlight Foundation), Adrian Holovaty (EveryBlock), Daniel X. O’Neil (EveryBlock), Michal Migurski (Stamen Design), Shawn Allen (Stamen Design), Josh Tauberer (, Lawrence Lessig (Stanford), Dan Newman (MapLight.Org), John Geraci (, Edwin Bender (Inst. for Money), Tom Steinberg (My Society), David Moore (Participatory Politics), Donny Shaw (Participatory Politics), JL Needham (Google), Joel Hardi (Public.Resource.Org), Ethan Zuckerman (Berkman), Greg Palmer (NewCo), Jamie Taylor (MetaWeb), Bradley Horowitz (Yahoo), Zack Exley (New Organizing Institute), Karl Fogel (Question Copyright), Michael Dale (Metavid), Joseph Lorenzo Hall (UC Berkeley), Marcia Hofmann (EFF), David Orban (Metasocial Web), Will Fitzpatrick (Omidyar Network), Aaron Swartz (Open Library).

The meeting was coordinated by Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media and Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org, with sponsorship from the Sunlight Foundation, Google, and Yahoo.


Online & Free

Information is not meaningfully public if it is not available on the Internet at no charge, or at least no more than the marginal cost of reproduction. It should also be findable.


Data should be made available at a stable Internet location indefinitely and in a stable data format for as long as possible.


The Association of Computing Machinery’s Recommendation on Open Government (February 2009) stated, “Published content should be digitally signed or include attestation of publication/creation date, authenticity, and integrity.” Digital signatures help the public validate the source of the data they find so that they can trust that the data has not been modified since it was published. Since provenance is for originally-published documents, it is not a reason to prevent the public from modifying government documents.

A Presumption of Openness

The presumption of openness rests on laws like the Freedom of Information Act, procedures including records management, and tools such as data catalogs.

Sunlight Foundation’s Open Data Policy Guidelines state, “Setting the default to open means that the government and parties acting on its behalf will make public information available proactively and that they’ll put that information within reach of the public (online), with low to no barriers for its reuse and consumption. . . . Setting the default to open is about living up to the potential of our information, about looking at comprehensive information management, and making determinations that fall in the public interest.”


Documentation about the format and meaning of data goes a long way to making the data useful.

The American Association of Law Libraries’s Principles & Core Values Concerning Public Information on Government Websites (March 24, 2007) noted that it is as important for users to know the data is current as for the data itself to be current. Their principles state, “Government websites must provide users with sufficient information to make assessments about the accuracy and currency of legal information published on the website.”

Safe to Open

The Association of Computing Machinery’s Recommendation on Open Government (February 2009) stated, “Government bodies publishing data online should always seek to publish using data formats that do not include executable content.” Executable content within documents poses a security risk to users of the data because the executable content may be malware (viruses, worms, etc.).

Designed with Public Input

The public is in the best position to determine what information technologies will be best suited for the applications the public intends to create for itself. Public input is therefore crucial to disseminating information in such a way that it has value.