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Most governments conceal data despite G20 pledges, study says

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(Credit: Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama meets with European leaders to discuss the situation in Ukraine, at the G20 in Brisbane November 16, 2014. Pictured are: (L-R) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, French President Francois Hollande, Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.G20 in Brisbane
January 20
9:45 AM 2015

Myanmar, Haiti and Mali were ranked the least open and transparent countries in a global index of government data released on Tuesday, which found that most governments do not make official data openly available to the public.

Despite pledges by the G7 and G20 to improve transparency in government data, which could help reduce corruption and improve state services, data remained locked away from public view in more than 90 percent of nations surveyed, The Web Foundation said.

Eighty-six countries were ranked in the Open Data Barometer on how readily their governments make data available, including information on government budgets and spending, public sector contracts, company ownership, health services and education.

Open data refers to data that is proactively published, and made available without charge, in readable file formats and without restrictions on use.

The United Kingdom topped the rankings for the second consecutive year, followed by the United States, Sweden, France and New Zealand.

"In our digital age, opening up raw government data to everyone, free of charge, is a great way to put power in the hands of citizens," said Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and founder of the Web Foundation.

"Yet this research indicates that governments continue to shy away from publishing the very data that can be used to enhance accountability and trust," he said. The Foundation is dedicated to the improvement and availability of the Web.

Almost half the G7 nations are still not publishing the key datasets they promised to release in 2013, the study said.

Only the United Kingdom and Canada publish land ownership data in open formats and under open licences, and only the United Kingdom has an open company register.

Berners-Lee said G7 and G20 nations must stop the unfair practice of charging citizens to read public information collected with their tax resources.

The study said that embedding data initiatives in law makes it harder for government agencies to shy away from opening up sensitive or lucrative datasets - but it found that fewer than one in five countries has a functioning right to information law.

Indonesia, China and Peru were the most improved countries compared with last year's rankings, while Kenya had the biggest fall, to 49th from 22nd position.

Nearly 80 percent of countries studied saw an improvement on last year, but outside high-income countries there was a widening gap between those able to establish and sustain open data programs, and those where open data activities have stalled, moved backwards, or not yet begun, the study said.

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