Assessing the risks of opening property rights data

Throughout 2016, Cadasta Foundation, in partnership with Open Knowledge International, is exploring land data with the ultimate aim of defining open data in property rights. This is an excerpt of the third in a series of pieces that documents this process. Find out more on the Open Data initiative.

As is evident from our research thus far, there is clearly sensitive, personal information held within the land registry that should be protected. Certainly, some actors should have ready access to this sensitive information, within land records, as detailed in our Overview of Property Rights Data. However, the pay-for-access system raises questions of whether granting access to only the privileged few gives some powerful, potentially nefarious actors access to sensitive information, while blocking out access to those with less money or influence. This can be particularly problematic in countries with greater income inequality, or in instances where government land offices are few and far between, and largely inaccessible to the rural poor.

Challenging the pay-for-access system toward more openness is vital to our aims of securing property tenure, but who can use this open data and for what purpose must also be taken into account. Different stakeholders, from governments to the private sector, as well as Open Knowledge International and Cadasta Foundation, have unique objectives and perspectives that are reflected in the collection, measurement and use of data. For example, a new map created by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), based on community mapping and interviews with indigenous peoples, reveals a high rate of deforestation and potentially illegal expropriation of community lands that deviates from information from official sources. This tool is already being used in Latin America to help indigenous groups assert their rights over government and private interests. At Cadasta Foundation and OKI, our needs for open data in land align with those of IUCN. However, we need to acknowledge the motivations that all actors might have for the data to be open or closed in order to prioritize the data uses of stakeholders working in the interest of vulnerable populations.

Additionally, our recommendations for what data to open cannot simply be based on what is best practice in advanced economies, but must also take into account the current situation and needs of undocumented community groups in emerging economies. In a sector that is as complex, varied and so profoundly tied to personal safety and well-being as property rights, context really matters.

Acknowledging these nuances is the structural foundation of our approach to defining open data in land and resource rights. So, to determine which datasets should be open and how, we, Cadasta and OKI, conducted an open data risk assessment. Throughout the process, we weighted the value and risks of the release of a particular dataset based on identifying the potential uses that could inflict harm upon individuals. We also worked to take into account the context of the risk to better understand which populations are vulnerable to the risks and in what circumstances the risk is great versus minimal.
For more information on our Risk Assessment Process, an explanatory resource is now available on our Open Data page. We hope this Risk Assessment will be a core resource to the open data and land rights communities going forward and so we’d encourage your feedback on it to inform our further research.

Lindsay is a research fellow at Cadasta, working to discover the intersection between open government data and securing property rights. She is particularly passionate about user research, human-centered design and civic tech projects. Lindsay is a proud native of the DC area and holds degrees in Russian Language and Philosophy from the University of Virginia.

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