Celebrating Open Data Day 2021: An open discussion on feasibility and challenges of opening up national security and intelligence data

 

Nepal Institute of Research and Communications (NIRC), as a think tank and enthusiastic supporter of open data movement in Nepal, has been participating and organizing Open Data Day events. Marking the Open Data Day 2021 (celebrated globally this year on March 6, 2021), NIRC, in collaboration with Transformative Research Initiative Nepal (TRIN) organized a round table discussion in Kathmandu on the feasibility and challenges of opening up national security and intelligence data.

The speakers during the event were:

  • Chiranjibi Bhandari – Assistant Professor, Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies (DCPDS), Tribhuvan University
  • Rajendra Sharma – National Security Researcher and Lecturer, National College, Kathmandu University
  • Shweta Dhoubhadel – M&E Practitioner

Attended by participants representing academia, think tanks and research institutions, here are key takeaways from the discussion:

  • While inquiring about the national security related information, common responses provided especially from the government officials are related to the information being “sensitive”.
  • Interestingly, students get easier access to the information and data, as they are not considered as “a threat”. While if non-government organizations, private companies and other associations ask for the same information, they are sometimes viewed in a skeptically, questioning the purpose of the information sought.
  • As a researcher or data enthusiast, it is often difficult to find security related information. Browsing through the internet, we hardly find specific information. Researchers often need to go physically to the offices and do several follow up visits to get hold of the data.
  • Even the digital data that is available in the internet, going by the purpose of open data to be useable and re-useable, the available data formats are not “open-data friendly” and are mostly available in PDFs or even in images or hard copies.
  • The security of the protected data is also a concern. Those with even medium level of expertise in ICT can easily hack the government websites, which is quite alarming in terms of the extent of public and sensitive data that can be misused.
  • There have been some good open data initiatives especially in the social development sector such as health and education. However, these initiatives are also supported through external/donor support and their sustainability is yet to be seen, when the federal and local governments start taking ownership.

As a way forward, the speakers recommended to:

  • Spread more awareness around open data and its importance across the country, especially among the policymakers, so that there are tangible actions taken to promote the cause.
  • Make National Security Council and the parliamentary committees more accountable and responsible for protecting national security and intelligence data.
  • Research and analysis of national security matters only enhances the broader understanding of issues of public importance. So, the responsible government bodies such as the Home Ministry, Ministry of Home Affairs and associated departments should ensure that at least shareable information is available to the researchers, think tanks and general public.

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