Open data policies should be informed by existing provisions ensuring access to government information. Strong open data policies build upon the principles embodied by existing laws and policies that defend and establish public access, often defining standards for information quality, disclosure and publishing. Examples of accountability policies include open meetings acts, open records acts, ethics standards, campaign finance regulation and lobbying disclosure laws, to name a few. Building on precedent from these policies and others can help strengthen new open data requirements and inform where policy updates or revisions are necessary that an open data policy can address.
Building on existing accountability and access policies can also help define the term “data” as it is used in an open data policy. Data, as it’s defined in open data policies, can be seen as the next iteration of public records. Existing laws defining the scope of public records could be used as the touchstone for defining data to be released proactively online. Public records exemptions, however, should not be used to limit the scope of the definition of data. Open data policies that define data using the definition of public records should be able to adapt to changing definitions of public records. For that purpose, definition by reference would be stronger than definition by the copying of language, which would force updates in more than one place.
Another benefit of using existing access policies as a foundation for open data is that it can help ensure legal rights to information. Policies that already outline standards for access to information often create a legal right to that information, and this could be used to ensure the legal right to open data by extension.