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Open data on criminals and teachers is a-okay, say most US citizens

Open data on criminals and teachers is a-okay, say most US citizens


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US citizens are in favor of sharing government information on individual criminals and teachers, but are less happy when such "open data" schemes apply to more personal matters. Sixty-two percent of US citizens support sharing data about individuals' criminal records, and 60 percent are happy with making information about teachers' performance in the classroom available. However, only 22 percent support sharing data about their mortgages.

53 percent of Americans believe open data would make the government more accountable

These figures, from a survey of attitudes towards government data by Pew Research, reflect the fact that while a slim majority of Americans (53 percent) believe that open data schemes can make the government more accountable, many citizens are distrustful of officials' ability to handle the data. For example, of the 77 percent of Americans who don't generally trust the federal government, only 38 percent said that opening up government data to the public would result in better decisions by officials. (For the 23 percent of Americans who do generally trust the government this figure was 71 percent.)

These attitudes towards the benefits of open data also broadly follow individuals' political alignment. Democrats are more likely to believe that open data makes government officials more accountable (60 percent agreed) and helps journalists cover government activities (58 percent agreed), Republicans are less likely to think that open data helps how the government functions.

This is despite the fact that the survey found no significant differences between how frequently Republicans and Democrats actually use existing online government services. Fifty-six percent of Republicans said they had used any of six digital services listed by Pew (these included paying a fine or renewing a drivers' license online), while 54 percent of Democrats had done the same.

Americans are unaware of links between government data and commercial apps

The report also found that many citizens in the US are unaware of how government data can be integral to digital products like apps. For example, 84 percent of those surveyed had used weather apps on their smartphones and 81 percent had used maps — both of which rely on government data to function. But only 9 percent of Americans said that government data helps "a lot" with the private sector's creation of products and services, while 41 percent agreed that it helps "somewhat."