When information on government activities is limited, there are opportunities for the corrupt to take advantage of public resources for private gain. To build transparency, accountability and integrity in government, an international shift towards openness is vital. The core principles of the Open Data Charter provide governments with guidance to become ‘Open By Default’ and to ensure shared data is in line with best practices. Building on the principles of open data, new technologies, such as blockchain, present additional opportunities to enhance transparency.
The use of data, especially open data, in law enforcement is a recent development but has the potential to be of great impact. Many questions still need to be answered around the mechanisms in which data can be utilized by law enforcement for anti-corruption efforts, including how to effectively communicate what is done with the data. Open data can only be unlocked when citizens are confident that openness will not compromise their right to privacy and law enforcement must protect personal data while ensuring that privacy and security do not become arguments for opacity. As seen in the Panama Papers release, mechanisms such as bank secrecy laws have been being used as loopholes by companies and individuals to engage in tax evasion.
The private sector produces data that can be essential in combating corruption worldwide and through the adoption of open practices, many businesses are becoming more transparent. To support the release of relevant private and government data, sectoral expertise is being applied to targeted anti-corruption efforts through institutional frameworks, including the Extractive industries Transparency Initiative (EITI); and International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).
No single actor can fight corruption alone and only through cooperation can this global issue be brought to an end. In addition to collaboration between governments and the private sector, the media, civil society, and citizens are valuable partners in the use of open data for anti-corruption efforts. A number of multilateral initiatives have emerged to facilitate these collaborations including: the Global Partnership of Sustainable Development Data; the international Open Data Charter; and the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Additional practical examples of data being used to address corruption include: the Open Contracting Data Standard; OpenCorporates; and the recent release of the Panama Papers, which in Mexico, led to the tax authority investigating 33 cases of corruption
To implement the Open Data Contracting Data Standard, Mexico, an adopter of the Open Data Charter, has established a multi-stakeholder expert group that includes the Federal Government, the Autonomous Access to Information Institute, Transparency International, the Open Contracting Partnership, and the World Bank. The Mexican government is also working to link blockchains to each release of open contracting data for priority infrastructure projects and as a result, government agencies, citizens, and civil society can check that data about a contract is genuine.
The challenge for the future is to move from leaks to a systematic approach to the release of data of public value. The Open Data Charter Anti-Corruption Sector Package is an example of a targeted initiative that fosters collaboration across sectors to prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute corruption at a global scale. Recommendations include governments making a number of datasets open including: public contracting; company ownership; budget, spending and corporate tax records; asset and interest registers; and anti-corruption system information. By identifying core datasets and use cases, this toolkit provides guidance on the practical application of open data in anti-corruption efforts.
Beyond the global Anti-Corruption Summit, we need to move from the status quo and commit to the implementation of concrete actions to support the use of open data and technology in the fight against corruption. Harnessing the benefits of open data will result in stronger and more connected societies, empowering citizens, the private sector, and governments to work together to prevent, expose, and most importantly prosecute, acts of corruption.
This post draws on comments made by Ania Calderón, from the Mexican Government, during the session ‘People Powered Anti-Corruption – How Data and Digital Technologies Can Help Fight Corruption’ at the recent UK Anti-Corruption Summit.