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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title V - Enabling Electronic Access and Analysis of Parliamentary Information

Sec. 39. Releasing Information in Non-Proprietary Formats

Parliaments shall give preference to the use of non-proprietary, free and open software applications in digitally releasing parliamentary information.

Releasing information in proprietary formats may prevent citizens from accessing information in ways that allow reuse. According to standards adopted Transparency International Georgia and affirmed by the Sunlight Foundation, a non-proprietary application is “one which is not subject to intellectual property controls in any country, and for which documents defining the format's structure are freely available. HTML and XML are examples of open formats.”  Parliaments should use these simple formats over formats “such as PDF or OOXML (OOXML is commonly known as the MS Office .docx, .pptx, and .xlsx formats)” that are proprietary and not easy to re-use.[1] 

In data standards recently adopted by the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil, it is required that “data are available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control.”[2] The government of the UK, in their commitments to the Open Government Partnership, has endorsed this standard and pledged to create a licensing model, the Open Government License, that “facilitates the use and re-use of a broad range of public sector information. The license covers any information that an Information Provider and/or rights owner offers for re-use under its terms and conditions,” which can also be used with other models such as Creative Commons and Open Data Commons.[3] Similarly, the Parliament of New Zealand is committed to using non-proprietary applications, adopting as a standard that “data and information released in proprietary formats are also released in open, non-proprietary formats. Digital rights technologies are not imposed on materials made available for re-use.”[4] 

The use of proprietary applications not only constrains citizens from proper access to parliamentary information, it also imposes unnecessary cost on parliaments. A report on information and communication technologies by the European Parliament’s OPPD explains that “[d]ocuments prepared in proprietary formats, that is, formats that can only be used with particular software or specific hardware constrain the options available for managing them, limit the capacity for meeting future requirements and ultimately cost more money to maintain.”[5]

[1] Transparency International Georgia, Ten Open Data Guidelines, Accessed 6/11/2012.

[2] Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, Dados Abertos da Camara dos Deputados (Open Data from the Chamber of Deputies), 2011, p. 2.

[3] Open Government Partnership, UK Country Commitments, Accessed 6/12/2012.

[4] Joshua Tauberer, Open Government Data, April 2012, Chapter 5. Accessed 6/11/2012.

[5] OPPD, Information and Communications Technologies in Parliament: Tools for Democracy, European Parliament, August 2010, p. 53.