Digitisation of Government Data: Democratic Benefits and Possible Costs


Event 1 in Victorian Fabians Spring Series, "Digitisation and Democracy".

SPEAKERS: Janet McCalman and Chris Culnane.


When your data is captured and shared by government, what are the benefits and costs?

The Turnbull government touts public and private use of open government data as a wellspring for better public and private service delivery and economic well-being.

Digitisation and tracking of government data allows better understanding of causes and solutions to inequities in our changing communities, and consequent adjustment of services and amenities. But use of government data is also encouraged for private profit making business opportunities.

Digitised government data may be used well or badly by both government entities and private ventures. Does open government digital data improve equality of access to democracy and its benefits and empower all?

Janet McCalman is a Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor in the Centre for Health Equity in the Melbourne School of Population & Global Health, at the University of Melbourne. She is an historian who specialises in historical population health, and the author of Struggletown (1984), Journeyings (1993) and Sex and Suffering: women health and a women's hospital (1998).

Janet uses government data extensively for her research and is a proponent of open availability of government data for positive research outcomes that benefit all Australians.

Janet says: "I'm calling my talk, ‘From Clinical Material to Big Data’. I’ll be arguing strongly for govt data to belong to the people i.e. The State and not to be sold for commercial gain - e.g.. Insurance companies, private analytics groups, etc."


Chris Culnane is a Research Fellow in the Department of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne.

He has researched electronic voting. He was the technical lead on the SuVote project to design, develop, and deploy an end-to-end verifiable electronic voting system in the 2014 state election in the State of Victoria, Australia.

More recently he was part of the team that discovered weaknesses in the anonymisation of the Australian Government MBS/PBS dataset release. The dataset consisted of a 10% sample of Australian Medicare billing records over a 30 year period.

He is also interested in how the original notion of open government has morphed into the more general notion of open data. As a result, an increasing number of open government data releases are not about the Government itself, but are instead about the population.

Chris says "...an increasing number of open government data releases are not about the Government itself, but are instead about the population. ...Such releases raise important questions about data ownership; does the data belong to the government, or is it merely the custodian? Should data that is collected compulsorily, or via access to essential government services, ever be released as open data, given the lack of an opt-out or alternative? If such data is released, does that mean a greater dependence on government services increases the likelihood of being a subject in a data release, and therefore incurs a greater privacy risk?"

  • August 30, 2017 at 6pm – 9pm
  • Melbourne Multicultural Hub, Purple Room.
    506 Elizabeth St
    Melbourne, Victoria 3000
    Google map and directions
  • 30 people are going
  • Julia Thornton


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