Is data open, if only national citizens can access it?


Hi all,

We had a really interesting case around land ownership data in Ukraine that I wanted to flag more prominently here. In this case only Ukrainian citizens can access land ownership data.

What do others think? Is this form of publication a legitimate way to publish open data? It discriminates against some user groups (non-citizens), so we could take a hard stance and say it is definitely not open. The International Open Data Charter for example remains a bit vague that open data should be accessible to the widest range of users. Are non-citizens part of this?

We could also take a softer stance and say that generally it can be considered open. But there is the point to make, that in any case a registration or authentication is required, which limits the openness of the data (it is access-controlled).

It would be interesting to hear other people’s thoughts on this topic. It is also interesting in the context of “data nationalism” and the political economy of open data.



CC’ing @vanuan and @vovka who have been involved in the initial discussion


One thought to add: obviously the requirement of citizenship to download data discriminates against non-citizens more broadly. So maybe my question is self-explaining…

In any case - it would be interesting to hear other people’s thoughts. Also would be great to hear reasons why governments add these requirements (beyond the point of citizens = taxpayers = deserve access to data they paid for).


according to Ukrainian laws one must identify himself to get access to land owner information. nothing is said about the citizenship. as soon as one has an Electronic signature or BankID of one of two Ukrainian state banks everything should work ok.


@dannylammerhirt in terms of “data nationalism” , that probably won’t fly in the EU since there is/will be a Directive and monitoring of delivering G2B / G2C services cross-border (granted, this is not pointed towards raw data exchange), Free Flow of (personal) Data initiatives… at least not between (citizens of) EU Member States.


I think there’s already a well established definition of openness:

The question here is about “public availability”. I think it should still be considered publicly available if the internet access is restricted to a specific location. Likewise a document in a library is publicly available even though you have to physically go to the library to access it.

There’s one thing that isn’t well defined is openness for redistribution. I think if data is machine readable it is automatically open for redistribution. In case of Ukraine’s land ownership data it’s kind of a gray area: it is not forbidden to scrape the site for data and republish it, but it isn’t encouraged either. Probably the license should be used to communicate this.


One thing which isn’t clear in the discussion is the licensing around the data. Is a Ukrainian citizen legally allowed to republish the data so people outside the geofence have access to it?


This sounds unusual. It’s completely possible to provide a license field in data which specifies one of the well known open data licenses. eg ODbL, CC, etc.

It only gets tricky for machine processing where the license is non-standard, so needs human intervention before the data source is processed.

Not really seeing how either case leads into “automatically open for redistribution”…?


See the original rejected submission:

I’ve answered no, since there’s a copyright symbol by the government agency.[quote=“justinclift, post:8, topic:5346”]
Not really seeing how either case leads into “automatically open for redistribution”…?

I understand there are cases when machine readable data is behind a paywall, but I haven’t seen the cases where machine readable and publicly available data is not publicly licensed. It’s like “anyone can download it, but nobody can reuse it”. That just doesn’t make sense.


Thanks @vanuan, the licensing answer B7 does have that info. Hadn’t grokked that. :slight_smile:

For the machine readable part, my point is that whether something is machine readable or not doesn’t really seem to have any bearing on it being automatically open.

I kind of think that hmm… humanity as a whole :wink: is in the early stages of getting our infrastructure for data sharing to a good place. And it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to encounter machine readable data in the future with licensing which isn’t open for redistribution.


Well, you have to make a distinction between copyright and license. Data can be copyrighted but still be licensed freely (e.g. Creative Commons Attribution).

Note that this also depends on jurisdiction, some (most ?) countries (like Belgium) automatically assign copyright to the creator (no copyright sign required), per the Berne Convention.


In my view the answer is yes, the data is still open.

The deeper problem here is that “global openness” approach, as postulated in Open Data Charter,
is in fact in direct conflict with national sovereignty principle.

And if we are challenging national sovereignty, then we are doing much more than just promoting open access or open government.

So it is in fact internal contradiction that the open movement will have to face sooner or later.


Firstly there are significant barriers technical to access - proving ID and no bulk access. So analysis of the data is hard to start with.

But most importantly, the lack of open licence means you can’t share the data with others, publish cleaned-up data, publish comparisons or linkage with other datasets or publish derived data. You can’t crowd-source any aspect of the data process. You are on dodgy legal ground if you publish visualizations of the data (its derived). Can you afford a lawyer? About all you can publish are summary stats. Newspapers, academics and campaigners might doubt it is worth this huge effort to overcome the barriers to do the analysis and publish only those summary stats, because it is so hard for others to reproduce the work for validation.

What CAN you do with it? Someone can manually check who owns a particular plot. Which is an age-old use case. Making it free instead of charging a small fee changes little.

The lack of open licence makes it clearly non-open, according to the open definition. And the allowance for citizens to view one-off records does little to support the aims of open data.


Thanks so much everyone for your comments and input.

@dread, @vanuan I entirely agree that in the Ukrainian case the data is accessible only as access-controlled data, which is not entirely machine-readable (hence answered “no” in our survey), is not for free (property value must be paid), therefore also not openly licensed (since this contradicts one core requirement of open licensing, namely that “The license must not impose any fee arrangement, royalty, or other compensation or monetary remuneration as part of its conditions”), not downloadable at once (not downloadable at all).

It is interesting to hear your thoughts @vovka, @justinclift, @ivobab . Especially around licensing issues in international contexts. I am not sure how the open definition group handles the case of limiting access to data only to people who can verify some ties to a country (be it a bank account or similar) In any case, registration requirements etc contradict principles of open data and can be considered as a form of access control.