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Understanding the problem space: Part III, Standards and Privacy
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July 15, 2020
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While the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has prompted additional layers and considerations around privacy to be implemented not just in Europe, but globally (so that European citizens can access non-European platforms), these standards do not account for  more stringent principles that accompany data sovereignty movements, especially by and for indigenous groups. As the Global Indigenous Data Alliance notes, principals such as FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) are primarily focused on increased ability to, and benefit of, sharing data while not being reflective of the power structures and historical circumstances in which data lives. CARE (collective benefits, authority to control, responsibility, ethics) principles provide added layers of protection to FAIR standards and focus on addressing these core historical issues around data ownership and rights.

The principles of FAIR and CARE potentially have wide applicability when considering data sharing and privacy for all groups working on sensitive environmental topics. For instance, sharing data early on when a community is actively seeking to demonstrate contamination from a fracking site could lead to a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Having additional layers of protections around control and ownership allows communities to drive the way in which, and at what point, their data is accessed and used. Systems seeking to accommodate the breadth of privacy requirements will have to build in both social and technical protections for how, when and with whom data can be viewed, shared and used.

Conditional licensing

In an alternative approach to privacy and ownership, a thread emerged in our conversations around conditional open licensing as applied to environmental datasets or the derived products. Open licensing is designed for a multitude of project types that are responsive to the interests of data owners. Conditions apply specific boundaries under which this data can be reused, remixed, and/or redistributed. Some licenses have specific restrictions that do not allow for derivative products, adaptation or commercial (for profit) use. While conditional licensing serves to provide a layer of protections to the producer and creator, it can present a challenge in the landscape of impactfulness of environmental data. Restrictions around reuse of data could limit, for instance, usability in concert with other layers of data that together provide a fuller picture of the economics of an environmental issue.

We acknowledge there are many actors and stakeholders in this space that are actively working towards remediating these problems and if we haven’t already, we’d be interested in hearing from you. Please tweet @OpenEnviroData about your project or send us a note at info@openenvironmentaldata.org.

Next up: Part IV: Design in open environmental hardware and data products