On April 29, in what was a very disappointing ruling for the information industry, open government advocates and proponents of data-driven innovation, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld Virginia’s citizens-only restriction on public records access. In the case, McBurney v. Young, the Court found that the effect of the “citizen restriction” on commerce was merely “incidental” since the state created the market for the information through a monopoly, it could discriminate against noncitizens who want to access that information. Huh?
As disappointing and surprising as the Court’s ruling is, the notion that a state would fail to recognize the benefits of maximizing the availability of data is perhaps even more troubling. As the case was headed to the Supreme Court, SIIA joined in filing a brief with the court arguing that a state’s restriction of access to public data is a violation of the Constitution’s commerce clause and would have a chilling effect on the flow of critical public records data and the innovation that can be derived from them. As we pointed out in an a related blog, Virginia’s efforts to restrict access to data flies in the face of forward-thinking states looking to leverage public-private partnerships to enhance services to citizens while minimizing cost. Such was the conclusion of a 2012 Report from the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) citing the opportunity for states in data analytics:
State government may be described as an enormous data generation engine. And the sky is the limit in terms future data generation based on the growth in mobile applications, sensors, cloud services and the growing public-private partnerships that must be monitored for performance and service levels. The challenge is that many state government agencies are still being run as islands of information versus members of a single state government enterprise. The result is state government is not fully exploiting the data it has at hand.
So at a time when states should be capitalizing on the benefits of the data they collect, this ruling gives the Commonwealth of Virginia the ability to continue as an island of information. It is a disservice to US citizens everywhere and to data-driven innovation.
David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPubPolicy.