IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - Fall 2013 - 74

W

hile the reuse of
public
sector
information (PSI)
can generate impor-
tant economic and
social value, a series of ethical
issues are emerging. To gain insight
into the ethical considerations and
legal risks, this study examines the
ethical status of statements made on
Chinese public sector web sites with
respect to the reuse of PSI using a
case analysis approach.

Reusing Public Sector
Information
According to the European Com-
mission Directive on the reuse of
public sector information, "reuse"
implies the use of documents held
by public sector agencies, by per-
sons or legal entities, for commer-
cial or noncommercial purposes,
other than the initial purpose
within the public task for which
the documents were produced. It
should be noted that exchange of
documents between public sector
agencies, purely in pursuit of their
public tasks does not constitute
reuse under the Legislative Actions -
PSI Directive (2003). PSI is consid-
ered to have significant economic
potential.
According to a 2011 European
Commission survey on the economic
impact of PSI, the overall direct and
indirect economic gains from PSI are
estimated at €140 billion throughout
the EU [1]. Reuse of PSI contrib-
utes to realizing economic value of
social information resources, and it
also can generate important social
value, such as ensuring citizens'
right to know and right to access
information, and increasing citizens'
employment rates. In China, reuse of
PSI also has drawn the attention of
government. For example, in 2004,
the Office of the Communist Party
of China (CPC) Central Commit-
tee and the Chinese Office of the
State Council worked collectively to
publish a report titled Several Views
on Strengthening Development and
Utilization of Information Resources
74

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(hereafter called Views), encourag-
ing the development of information
resources.
Views indicated that informa-
tion is perceived as one factor of
production, an intangible asset and
an aspect of social wealth equal in
importance to energy and material.
In particular, Views emphasized
the important role of reuse of gov-
ernment information, as well as its
stewardship in the development and
reasonable collection of govern-
ment information resources. More-
over, in 2006, Views also jointly
released the National Informatization Development Strategy during
2006-2020, which reaffirmed that
"strengthening development and uti-
lization of information resources"
was one of nine key development
strategies of national informati-
zation, and required "directing
and regulating [the] reuse of gov-
ernment information." In April
of 2006, the China Information
Office of the State Council pub-
lished a report titled, Notice about
Division of Tasks of Strengthening Development and Utilization
of Information Resources, which
clearly raised "encouraging social
forces to reuse government infor-
mation with economic and social
value; formulating administrative
measures to regulate reuse of gov-
ernment information." All of these
reports point to the explicit need to
channel development of informa-
tion resources.
Despite the purported value of
the reuse of PSI, a series of con-
flicts arise with respect to privacy
and information sharing, infor-
mation accuracy, moral hazards,
information property and market
trade, information accessibility,
and information equity. Mason [2]
identifies four main ethical issues
in the electronic age including:
privacy, accuracy, property, and
accessibility [2]. From the above-
mentioned conflicts identified in
the reuse of PSI, Mason's infor-
mation ethics dimensions are
applied.

Ethical Status of Public
Sector Website Statements
in China
To gain insight into the ethical
status of public sector website
statements in China, a self-admin-
istered website survey approach
was adopted. The study chose to
focus on 26 representative State
Council departments and 17 public
institutions directly under State
Council available on the Chinese
government portal [3]. The govern-
ment agencies were chosen given
their connection with public ser-
vice offerings of citizens. Through
the survey on website statements,
the following research questions
were posed:
1) Which ethical elements are
extant in the website statement
of the public sector agency: a)
copyright, b) privacy, c) accu-
racy, or d) accessibility?
2) Specifically, what content is
provided in the copyright sec-
tion of the website statement or
what separate copyright state-
ment is posted?
3) Excluding ethical elements in
the website statement, what
other content is included with
respect to the reuse of PSI?
According to the self-adminis-
tered survey among 26 state coun-
cil departments, departments with
website statements pertaining to
PSI accounted for 38% of depart-
ments surveyed. Among 17 public
institutions surveyed directly under
the State Council, departments with
website statements pertaining to PSI
accounted for 23% (see Table I).
Website statements such as copy-
right notices, terms and conditions of
use, or ethical statements should be
adopted by all departments, as it is
important for public sector agencies
to declare their respect to principles
of information ethics in the way they
handle their data sets. From website
statements, users can easily denote
the following information: whether
the government department's activi-
ties of the collection, processing and
release of information are ethically

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