Ordnance Survey Makes Mapping Data Freely Available

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Ordnance Survey today released its maps to the public free of charge, as part of an initiative to make government data more accessible

Mapping agency Ordnance Survey is making all of its data freely available to the public online, as part of a government drive to give people greater access to public information.

Ordnance Survey’s geographical data has previously only been available free of charge to small-scale developers, and Ordnance Survey’s “fair use” policy required people to apply for commercial licenses at £5,000 a go once their website reached a certain limit.

However, from today, individuals and companies will be able view and copy Ordnance Survey maps for free, and “mash-up” this information with other data to form new products and services. Members of the public will also be able to input their postcode and gain access to statistics on crime, health and education in their area.

A cultural change in government

Communities Secretary John Denham said he expected the increasing access to OS data to “attract a new wave of entrepreneurs” and “drive a new industry, creating new jobs and driving future growth”. He said the new scheme placed the UK at the “cutting edge of a digital revolution”.

“The changes signal a wider cultural change in government, based on an assumption that information should be [put] in the public domain unless there is a good reason not to – not the other way around,” he added. “Greater openness, accountability and transparency in government will give people greater choice and make it easier for individuals to get more directly involved in issues that matter to them.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown first announced plans to make Ordnance Survey maps freely available online in November 2009. At a seminar on ‘Smarter Government’ in Downing Street, Brown said “We are determined to be the first government in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public.”

Today’s announcement follows a four-month consultation on the government’s proposals to make certain datasets free. “I believe that OS OpenData delivers on that vision, providing a wide range of OS mapping for re-use and without restriction,” said Vanessa Lawrence, director general and chief executive of Ordnance Survey.

At the “cutting edge of a digital revolution”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee (founder of the World Wide Web) and Nigel Shadbolt (Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Southampton) have been working with John Denham and Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms since the beginning of the project, as well as on data.gov.uk – a public website that contains more than 2,500 sets of data from across government.

Today they both welcomed the announcement. “I’m delighted that the Ordnance Survey is releasing this data for free re-use,” said Berners-Lee.

Must Read: Could Britain Lead The Digital Revolution?
Must Read: Could Britain Lead The Digital Revolution?

Last month it was also announced that Berners-Lee and Shadbolt would head a new Institute for Web Science, announced as part of wider plans to make the UK a leader in digital services and content. Around £30 million has been earmarked to fund the institute which will be jointly based at the Universities of Oxford and Southampton.

“We are determined to go further in breaking down the walled garden of government, using technology and information to provide greater transparency on the workings of Whitehall and give everyone more say over the services they receive,” said Gordon Brown in March.

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