Thursday, April 06, 2006

MN Bill To Require Open Formats

MN H.F. No. 3971

A bill was introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives that would make "open data format usage by state agencies required". (H.F. No. 3971 introduced 3/27/06)

It only allows for the use of what it defines as "restricted formats" in situations where it is "technically impossible".

I think this is very encouraging and simply common sense. Governments deal in historical information. What is a common, closed format today is very likely going to be obsolete in 10+ years. Without an open, documented format, how can the government ensure continued accessibility to its data?

My impression is that this will have little actual impact on state agencies and government units. If anything I would expect the burden to quickly fall on the software providers to either fully open their data formats or risk the chance of another provider filling their "industry leader" positions with alternative, open formats. has a blog entry with an analysis of the proposed legislation and its impacts.

The bill amends existing statute by adding the following text in the stated sections:

[DEFINITIONS] Minnesota Statutes 2005 Supplement, sections 16E.03, subdivision 1:
(f) "Open standards" means specifications for the encoding and transfer of computer data that:
--- (1) is free for all to implement and use in perpetuity, with no royalty or fee;
--- (2) has no restrictions on the use of data stored in the format;
--- (3) has no restrictions on the creation of software that stores, transmits, receives, or accesses data codified in such way;
--- (4) has a specification available for all to read, in a human-readable format, written in commonly accepted technical language;
--- (5) is documented, so that anyone can write software that can read and interpret the complete semantics of any data file stored in the data format;
--- (6) if it allows extensions, ensures that all extensions of the data format are themselves documented and have the other characteristics of an open data format;
--- (7) allows any file written in that format to be identified as adhering or not adhering to the format;
--- (8 ) if it includes any use of encryption, provides that the encryption algorithm is usable on a royalty-free, nondiscriminatory manner in perpetuity, and is documented so that anyone in possession of the appropriate encryption key or keys is able to write software to unencrypt the data.
(g) "Restricted format" means any data format that is accessed, stored, or transferred and is not open standards compliant.

[RESPONSIBILITIES] Minnesota Statutes 2005 Supplement, sections 16E.03, subdivision 2:
(g) The office shall assist state agencies to avoid the purchase or creation of data processing devices or systems that do not comply with open standards for the accessing, storing, or transferring of data. The office shall:
--- (1) ensure any new data standards which the state of Minnesota defines and to which it owns all rights are open standards compliant;
--- (2) use open standards in situations where the other requirements of a project do not make it technically impossible to do this. For a particular project involving the access, storage, or transfer of data, a restricted data format may be chosen when satisfaction of essential project requirements precludes the use of an open data format. Neither the current storage format of previously collected data, nor current utilization of specific software products, is a sufficient reason, in absence of other specific overriding functional requirements, to use a restricted format;
--- (3) reexamine existing data stored in a restricted format, to which the state of Minnesota does not own the rights, every four years to determine if the format has become open and, if not, whether an appropriate open standard exists;
--- (4) make readily accessible, from a central location on the Internet, documentation on open data formats used by the state of Minnesota. When data in open format is made available through the state's Web site, a link shall be provided to the corresponding data format documentation.


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