Caribbean policy makers and academic institutions should consider the tangible benefits to be derived from making more data more available to more people. This, according to Trinidad-born technology expert Bevil Wooding, an international advocate for the open data movement in developing countries.
Wooding, founder of the non-profit BrightPath Foundation, described Open Data as "potentially one of the most significant advances in how public access to public information is leveraged for the common good". He addressed some concerns regarding the impact of open data on privacy and security.
“Privacy issues are very real. Security of electronic data remains a necessary point of concern," Wooding said. “However, open data involves data sets of non-personal information that are already captured and held in public trust.”
The key distinction, he explained, is that open data is made available in a format that can be accessed by anyone.
"When you weigh in balance the benefits of making data publicly accessible against the threat of people taking advantage of this information for negative uses, one must conclude that the benefits far outweigh the risks."
'Open Data' is a term used to describe the idea that certain information should always be readily available to everyone. According to the open data philosophy, such access to data should be without copyright, without patent, or without any such restriction that would prevent the end user from determining how the data is used.
Wooding is at the forefront of a regional Open Data initiative, backed by the University of the West Indies and the International Development Research Centre of Canada.
Many governments including the US, UK, Canada, India, Brazil and Kenya have opened up their data on sites such as data.gov, data.gov.uk, data.gc.ca, opendatsata.go.ke, with other countries joining the movement at a strong pace.
Wooding is part of a slate of local and regional experts who will father for the first regional event of its kind on Open Data. The conference, titled “Developing the Caribbean”, will be hosted simultaneously across Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago from January 26 to 27.
Conference organisers are hoping to significantly raise the awareness of how public information can help to solve problems and provide new services to citizens. Web developers will collaborate through live video streaming of all presentations, and groups from other territories will be encouraged to participate virtually.
The conference will be recorded and the live stream opened up to the public.