Radical Public Transparency

[Em português]


On May 16th, 2012, the law # 12.527/2011 - also known as the Information Access Law - was officially published in Brazil. This law enables all citizens to request all kinds of data and information from any governmental agency in all levels (Country, State, Municipality) and competencies (Executive, Legislative and Judiciary). The citizens doesn’t even to justify their requests. The agencies have to respond to all requests in 30 days.

Brazil was the 90th Country to publish a law like this and yet, it is one of the most daring Countries when we talk about the creation of the necessary tools allowing the much needed public transparency required for the application of this law.

In 2004, the Federal Government Transparency portal was inaugurated as an initiative of the Office of the Comptroller General (CGU) with the intent of giving public visibility to the government’s usage of financial resources. Through this portal, every citizen can verify how and where the government is using the taxpayers’ money.

In 2012 the Brazilian Open Data portal was made available to the public, exposing raw data from several public agencies.

These two initiatives are equally important and complementary. While the Transparency portal presents a web interface where the citizens can perform a series of objective and direct information searches, the Open Data portal provides raw data allowing external applications to mesh up information from several sources and produce all sorts of visualizations. These applications are being developed and cataloged inside the Open Data portal itself, serving as the basis for new applications still to be developed.

The Brazilian Open Data portal

Accordingly to the definition presented by the Brazilian Open Data portal, a data can only be considered as open if it abides to the following three laws and eight principles:

The three laws

David Eaves, specialist in public policies and open data activist is the one who originally proposed the three laws for open government data:

  1. If it can’t be spidered or indexed, it doesn’t exist
  2. If it isn’t available in open and machine readable format, it can’t engage
  3. If a legal framework doesn’t allow it to be repurposed, it doesn’t empower

Although Eaves proposed these laws for open government data, they can be broadly applied for open data in general.

The eight principles

In 2007, a group of 30 open government advocates got together in the state of California, United States of America, to develop a set of principles of open government data. They agreed upon these eigth principles:

  1. Data Must Be Complete - All public data are made available. Data are electronically stored information or recordings, including but not limited to documents, databases, transcripts, and audio/visual recordings. Public data are data that are not subject to valid privacy, security or privilege limitations, as governed by other statutes.
  2. Data Must Be Primary - Data are published as collected at the source, with the finest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms.
  3. Data Must Be Timely - Data are made available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data.
  4. Data Must Be Accessible - Data are available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes.
  5. Data Must Be Machine processable - Data are reasonably structured to allow automated processing of it.
  6. Access Must Be Non-Discriminatory - Data are available to anyone, with no requirement of registration.
  7. Data Formats Must Be Non-Proprietary - Data are available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control.
  8. Data Must Be License-free - Data are not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulation. Reasonable privacy, security and privilege restrictions may be allowed as governed by other statutes.

While building the Brazilian Open Data portal, besides considering these laws and principles, the team assigned for this task (members of the Brazilian National Open Data Infrastructure) took special consideration for those who would be consuming the raw data and transforming them into useful information: the Brazilian civil society members.

From the start up, all planning and development meetings regarding the Open Data portal were made open for anyone willing to participate. The portal building tasks were selected and prioritized through an agile development method while all decisions and actions were registered in a public, shared web document. Everyone could watch the evolution of the teamwork.

Members of the civil society and public employees collaborated on several tasks: software development, web design, usability and accessibility, information architecture and others. After all, the synergy between the government and its citizens working towards a common goal is the essence of a truly open government.

By the time this document was finished, the Brazilian Open Data portal had 82 datasets representing a total of 1023 unique raw data resources. These data have been cataloged mostly trough a research made within the public agencies already publishing - somehow - their data on the web. Now all of this data is centralized and organized in a way people can have an easier access to them. These figures are, however, the tip of a huge iceberg when compared to all of the Brazilian public data still to be published in an open format.

The Brazilian Open Data portal is an integral part of a bigger project, the National Open Data Infrastructure (INDA - Infraestrutura Nacional de Dados Abertos). INDA establishes technical standards inside the Brazilian government, promotes training and supports the public agencies willing to publish open data. INDA is, itself, an open government platform and so it is open for public participation.

Open Data and Free Software

All people involved in the creation and maintenance of the Brazilian Public Software portal (several public agencies employees and members of the civil society, under the coordination of the Brazilian Ministry of Planning) have only used free and open source software to build the portal and expose public, open data.

The INDA official normative instruction states that all federal public agencies are, mandatorily, members of the Brazilian National Open Data Infrastructure and all other public agencies (State and Municipality) may voluntarily join it.

So, if the Brazilian federal government wants to incentivate all public agencies to become a member of its National Open Data Infrastructure, it is better to provide everyone with a set of tools that can be freely used, without worrying about intelectual properties and patents that could compromise the real opening of all kinds of information and knowledge. Thanks to this mindset and attitude, all of the software used to build the Brazilian Open Data portal is made available to everyone who wants to build their own portals, regardless if they are public or private institutions, NGOs or regular citizens.

The future of Public Administration with Open Data

By making actively, readily available all of its data, exposing all of the information regarding financial resources and encouraging the population to ask whatever they want through its Information Access Law, the Brazilian government exercises the “Linus Law”, as enunciated by Eric Raymond, referring to Linus Torvalds (the creator of the Linux operating system), in his essay “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”: given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

Much more than contributing to the fight against corruption in Brazil, the transparency tools and actions empower the citizens with the full knowledge of the acts, facts and methods of its government. This will allow the civil society to directly interfere on the improvement of the governmental processes and in the quality of the public administration.

Now the moment has arrived when young hackers can combine the APIs of their preferred social networks with the ones provided by open data portals. Soon it will be easy, through any kind of client device, to retrieve the full relevant data regarding anyone on an elected, public administrative function. This will be done in the same way we get alerts telling us about a friend’s birthday or change of marital status.

Thanks to the availability of public, open data, Brazilians are getting a memory upgrade that will allow them to better vote for their future representatives.


Brazilian Federal Government Transparency portal: http://www.portaltransparencia.gov.br/

Brazilian Open Data portal: http://dados.gov.br/

Brazil is the 90th Country to have an information access law (Brasil é 90º país a ter lei de acesso à informação), by Mauro Malin in 15/05/2012, Observatório da Imprensa:


The new dados.gov.br portal, made by the civil society (Novo Portal dados.gov.br, feito pela Sociedade)), by Augusto Herrmann in 10/05/2012, OKFN: http://br.okfn.org/2012/05/10/novo-portal-dados-gov-br-feito-pela-sociedade/

Normative Instruction for the Brazilian National Open Data Infrastructure (Instrução Normativa da INDA), 12/04/2012: http://dados.gov.br/instrucao-normativa-da-inda/

The Cathedral and the Bazaar, por Eric Raymond em 2 de agosto de 2002: http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/homesteading/cathedral-bazaar/

The Three Laws of Open Government Data, by David Eaves in 30/09/2009: http://eaves.ca/2009/09/30/three-law-of-open-government-data/

8 Principles of Open Government Data: http://www.opengovdata.org/home/8principles

This text is under the Creative Commons Share Alike License 3.0 Brasil: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/br/

Originaly published in GOVERNO BRASILEIRO NO FUTURO - Sugestões e desafios para o Estado (2012-2022) published by CUBZAC.

[Em português]

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