Alberto pointed me to a great piece of news, again from Italy.
The Italian government launched some time ago a “transparency initiative” which mainly publishes all the relevant information about public sector managers and workers, such as pay and days of absence, as I explained last year. It is a good initiative, although I dont like “partial transparency: why is transparency applied first of all to (against) public sector workers?
Italian public administrations implemented this directive by mandating the publication of this information on their website. But the article shows that most administration (including the ministry) publish these information in a directory which is not indexable by search engines – using the robots.txt file with “disallow:/operazionetrasparenza/”. So on the one hand they publish it, on the other they don’t allow these information to be indexed by search engine.
The implication is that searching with google the name of a person, you will not find these data. You will have to know that the person is employed by a public administration, and visit the website and check the name. This is obviously limiting the real transparency of the public data.
I assume the excuse is related to privacy: there are different privacy implications if a personal information is searchable or not. This is an important matter, which I would like to understand better. Yet in this case it appears as an excuse.
Real transparency needs machine-readable data, and using robots.txt is a clear contradiction of the principle of transparency. Funnily enough, I wrote about this on the very first post of this blog.
In any case, what is worst for me is that the transparency here focusses not on how government makes decisions and spends money, but on the individual behaviour of civil servants. As the Obama administration shows, for example with the IT dashboard, one should instead start from the former.