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Corruption has a devastating impact on the lives of people around the world. When money that should be spent on schools, hospitals and other government services ends up in the hands of dishonest officials, everyone suffers.
A broad understanding of corruption recognises that it is not just about isolated acts between two different agents: the one who offers a bribe, and the one who receives it. Instead, corruption is a complex crime. It is driven by networks of officials, professional intermediaries and companies. So in order to tackle corruption effectively, you need to understand and dismantle these networks. This requires information and the ability to spot patterns.
Many of the activities of a corruption network, and many of the individuals and organisations involved, leave their mark on government held datasets. Paradoxically, corruption schemes frequently rely upon the law to secure ownership of companies, land and assets used to launder their proceeds. Public contracts, spending and other transactions are all recorded in government ledgers. And existing policies may call for asset disclosures and interest registers to be maintained. If all this information remains in silos, identifying, tracking and confronting corruption networks remains a laborious task.
That’s where open data can step in. Open data is information anyone can access, use and share. It should be made available with the technical and legal characteristics necessary for it to be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone, anytime, anywhere. Publishing government information in this way has the potential to allow government officials, journalists and citizens to follow financial flows, understand who’s providing government services and to spot suspect behaviour. There is political momentum behind this, and in 2015 the G20 agreed a common approach for how to use open data to combat corruption.