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Handling documents

Open State uses Aleph to make documents searchable

In response to FOI (Wob/Woo) requests, the Dutch government has published a large number of documents related to Covid. However, these documents do not meet open data standards. The data is contained in pdfs of up to 1GB and search and filter options are limited.

Open State, an organisation advocating transparency, is publishing the documents using the open source data platform Aleph. Aleph was developed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and can be used to upload documents; extract text through ocr; extract names, company names, and other entities; make the data searchable and create network graphs of entities.

In September, Dimitri Tokmetzis of Dutch investigative journalism organisation Follow the Money announced they’re also considering using Aleph.

Local government looking for someone to ‘black out’ documents

Earlier this month the Zaanstad municipality published a job opening for someone to help redact documents that are to be released in response to FOI requests, by ‘blacking them out’. After a minor media storm, the wording was changed to ‘hiding sensitive information’.

Incidentally, Jorg Leijten of NRC reported (paywall) that governments nowadays often use white instead of black to redact documents, because it looks less intense.

Company data

EU to require (some) open company data

The Netherlands has a bit of a dubious reputation when it comes to transparency regarding company data. However, the EC has published a draft list of ‘high-value datasets’ which suggests that the Netherlands will need to open up part of it’s company register within two years after the regulation enters into force. Data including name, industry code, annual reports, and some ownership information must be made available as open data, in machine-readable form (except scanned documents), through APIs and as bulk downloads. Member states are ‘encouraged to go beyond the minimum requirements’.

Note that transparency advocates are critical of the draft list because it doesn’t include names of owners. This appears to refer to the UBO register, which contains information about who ultimately controls a company, and which isn’n mentioned in the draft list.

Proponents argue that public access to company data is essential to reveal tax dodging, networks of shady temp work agencies and financial crime. Perhaps this is also why there’s so much resistance against opening up company registers. As Ton Zystra puts it: «In my perception because this is the only data set that actually might end up challenging the status quo in society (as it involves ownership and power structures, and touches tax evasion).»

The Netherlands high on financial secrecy index

The Netherlands is on position #12 of the Financial Secrecy Index of Tax Justice, performing worse than the Cayman Islands and Cyprus. One of the reasons for its high score is the lack of transparency regarding ultimate ownership of companies (UBO). «Secrecy in this specific area helps the richest persons, criminals and companies hide their assets and evade taxes or sanctions.»

Statistics

Stats at 9:30am

The UK Statistics Authority maintains its rule that statistics are to be published on weekdays at 9:30 am, but it has decided to allow alternative release times in specific cases, subject to approval. While this may sound bureaucratic, there are reasons to adhere to a standard publication time: «it enables release in an open and transparent manner, gives consistency across the [Government Statistical Service] and protects against political interference.»

Judging from its release schedule, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) appears to publish most of its statistics either at 0:00 or at 6:30. There appears to be a correlation with the length of the period reported on, as the table below suggests. Statistics published at 15:30 are about the Caribbean part of the Netherlands.

month quarter year
00:00 8 35 8
06:30 80 14 1
09:30 4 2 0
10:00 0 0 1
15:30 0 3 1