The ACS has called on the federal government to accelerate open data initiatives, increasing the amount of data that is shared while working to overcome privacy concerns.

Responding to a Productivity Commission inquiry into data availability and use, the ACS put forward 12 recommendations designed to increase data sharing across the public and private sectors.

The Commission is exploring – in part – how increased data accessibility might promote innovation and competition outcomes for Australia.

It is looking at the costs and benefits, as well as how individuals might be able to better gain access to data about them to help them inform personal choices.

The ACS’ submission calls for stronger leadership to drive more government-held data into a public, open access domain.

Specifically, it calls for a “mandatory requirement” on departmental secretaries to publish data, as well as the appointment of an individual evangelist – or a council of them – to oversee and advocate open data within public sector ranks.

It also seeks investment in analytics infrastructure and into the educational institutions training the next generation of analysts that can find meaning from pools of open data.

In addition, the ACS recommends a focus on better anonymisation of “valuable data sets”, including methods used to de-identify personally-identifiable data to prepare it for release.

“Flows of re-usable public and private data are such that the implications for economies and society are considerable,” the ACS said.

“They hold the promise of helping us address some of our biggest national challenges by facilitating research and the development of new products, processes, organisational methods and markets.

“[But] the true value of data is highly context-dependent and multiplies when it is shared and linked with other data sets.”

However, the ACS warned that if “rigorous policy support” is not leant to issues arising in the open data debate, then “governments risk under-investing in data and data analytics and may end up giving access to data for a narrower range of uses than socially and economically optimal.”

“This risk undermines our capacity to innovate, because data and its analysis have become a form of capital, a fundamental input to innovation, akin to R&D,” the ACS said.

The ACS’ submission is one of 195 that have so far been publicly released.

The inquiry drew responses from a range of blue chip firms, internet companies and institutions.

While the case for a greater degree of open data from the public sector is fairly well advanced and understood, the idea that similar rules be applied to the private sector is proving a tougher sell.

Much of the private sector is against a mandate that would force them to release data publicly, even if the goal is to match it with government data in order to achieve a greater economic good.

“It is likely too difficult for the government to define or regulate private sector data given the very different nature of data across industries and the diverse uses to which they can be put,” Facebook’s A/NZ director of policy Mia Garlick said.

“Given the strong incentives that industry has to improve and innovate on service delivery and to maintain trust and confidence in the utility of their products, these drivers are likely to continue to lead to industry leveraging data analytics for economically and socially beneficial purposes.”

CBA said it already sought to strike a balance “between meeting the needs of the innovation economy and protecting customer privacy and security” when it approached data use.

It said data-driven banking innovation was already happening without regulation, meaning there was a weak case for the Government to mandate that data be opened outside the four walls of the bank.

“The Commonwealth Bank is of the firm view that growth in innovation and a strong finance sector can be achieved without the need for additional regulatory intervention regarding data access,” it said.

However, Australia Post believed there was value in open data rules applying across public and private domains.

“Australia Post believe that the benefits of the usage driven data sharing approach suggested for the public sector is applicable in the private sector,” it said.

“While large enterprises are already seeking to share data via various forms of protected “safe haven” models (e.g. Quantium - Woolworths, Qantas, NAB etc & Data Republic - Westpac, NAB, CBA etc), Australia Post believe that the fostering of data sharing capabilities across the SMB sector offers the most significant private sector opportunity for economic and social value creation by encouraging industry collaboration and innovation.”