Crime statistics and reporting formed some of the earliest open data experiments. However, the domain has received less sustained attention than initiatives targeted at executive and legislative branches of the government.
Opening up crime and justice data comes with challenges that include privacy concerns, interoperability within legacy institutions and data streams and several political and cultural barriers.
Successful initiatives have devised tools that are contextual to local political contexts. In Asia, the e-Courts portal in India is a well-intentioned program. Globally, a lot more headway has been made in the contexts of Latin America and several Northern countries.
Donors, civil society actors and governments are required to place greater emphasis on this domain. Open crime and justice data can play a key role in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goals 5 and 16.
Many prominent open data initiatives are related to executive and legislative branches of government. In comparison, advocacy and action on open judicial data is limited. Despite the highly contextual characteristics of judicial data and bodies, open government philosophy is applicable when judiciary data is linked to the right to know and public scrutiny1.
Judiciary data is comprised of case data, jurisdictional data, and structural data2. Case data is most commonly subjected to public scrutiny as it includes information on, and text of, judicial rulings. Initiatives focussing on jurisdictional data report on crime activity via location, arrests, and citizen complaints3. Structural data focuses on the internal operations of judicial bodies. This includes a variety of information, from budgeting and procurement data to procedural data4.
Within open crime and justice data itself, are links to other subsets of data and branches of government. The following visualisation, from the State of Open Data book, portrays the open crime and justice data ecosystem5. Data produced within this ecosystem exists as primary data, aggregated statistical data, or aggregated graphical data6.
Vast amounts of data are released by these actors. In the United States of America (US), according to the Sunlight Foundation, financial, demographic, crime, court, and probation data are made available at federal and municipal levels7. Although, availability does not necessarily connote openness - several datasets remain in non-readable formats and fail to report statistics on police-citizen interactions. An open data approach towards crime and justice could improve service delivery and invite public engagement8.
Beyond the collection and release of data within this ecosystem, a movement towards an open judiciary aims to hold the judiciary accountable. This manifests as modernisation of judicial processes by incorporating information and communications technologies, bolstering participation and transparency, and initiating innovative reform within judicial structures9. Tensions regarding (in)equitable judicial practices and the resource intensive nature of opening up judiciary data shape the urgency of the movement.
Along with geospatial and environmental data, crime statistics and reporting data portals were among the earliest experimentations of open data. One of the first noteworthy experimentations was ChicagoCrime.org. Launched in 2005, this platform presented Chicago Police Department data in the form of an interactive map10. Chicago residents had the option of browsing crime data by type, location, ZIP code, and date11. In the US, the creation of this site inspired similar projects in other cities and played a role in influencing Google to open its mapping API12. Despite this head start in the open data movement, open justice has not expanded far beyond reporting crime statistics. The availability of crime data and statistics is meagre. According to a 2017 Open Data Barometer survey, only 17% of governments had made any crime data available13.
While this statistic is bleak, awareness and enthusiasm for an open justice movement has been growing globally. From 2011 to 2017, the number of open judicial commitments within OGP National Action Plans rose from 2 to 63. Of these commitments, 24 are based on using open data14.
Concerns regarding inequities in access to and outcomes of judicial systems have contributed to shaping the trajectory of the movement. Several pivotal initiatives began due to growing mistrust and dissatisfaction with law enforcement. In the US and the UK, these concerns were partially addressed by President Obama’s Police Data Initiative (PDI) in 201515, and data.police.uk16.
Private, civil, and law enforcement actors from all levels convened under the PDI to build trust with community members and increase transparency through open data reforms17. According to statistics from 2015, 26 police departments from across the country have joined the initiative. The Police Department in Montgomery is especially thriving under this initiative; they have released crime statistics, calls for service, incident data, and datasets noting every incident in which a police officer intentionally fires a gun18.
In the UK, police.uk was launched in 2011 due to a high demand for increasing access to local crime data and acquiring information on local police officers19. Two years later, the website transitioned into a portal with the domain data.police.uk. Following principles set out by the Open Data Institute (ODI), the newest version of the portal hosts a greater amount of machine-readable data in CSV formats20. Relative to other branches of open data, progress in open justice has been stagnant, given the contentious social and political factors driving demand for open justice. In such an environment, it is commendable that initiatives such as PDI and data.police.uk have been instituted.
The breadth of open data requirements, including the quantity and quality of datasets, invites several individuals, in professional and volunteer capacities, to help make data accessible. In the US for example, state governments, individuals, and academic institutions are using their resources to open up law enforcement and security data. The United States Department of Justice (DoJ) aims to enforce open data publication internally and in other branches of government. Since 2013, the DoJ has been creating an inventory of high-value data21. In the US, there is a wide potential user-base in, and encouragement from, academic institutions to make use of data that is made available. Marymount University’s Library & Learning Services has a website featuring local, national, and international criminal justice statistics22. There is also the GovLab Index that posts crime data available in the US and highlights any gaps and issues. This portal is run by individuals affiliated with Open Data Work and invites volunteers to contribute23.
On the other hand, when political contexts vary or certain crimes occur more frequently than others, tools change accordingly. In Argentina, where there are no information disclosure laws, any data made available to journalists is a result of their own efforts. Within this context, La Nacion has been publishing national data with interactive data visualisation relevant to journalists. Through conferences and workshops run by the group itself, journalists are trained to use the main tools of data journalism and share data in open formats24.
When it comes to development efforts, open justice data practices can play a big role in meeting SDG targets. Goal 16 aims to reduce violence and organised crime through robustly developed institutions, and Goal 5 focuses specifically on eliminating gender based violence. To address goal 5, the Colombian government’s Open Data Portal and Argentina’s Open Judicial Data Portal are cited as exemplars. Primary data on femicides and human trafficking are made available on these portals25.
In addition to local contexts, the types of actors within the movement shape the types of tools available. Comparatively, open justice has a fewer number of civil society organisations than other subsets of government data. This demographic shift would likely alter the channels and infrastructure through which the public can engage with judiciary and government bodies. Among the civil society organizations that are part of the open justice movement La Nacion, Measures for Justice in the US, OpenGiustizia in Italy, and Justice Data Lab in the UK are central players26.
Globally, India’s e-Courts, Slovakia’s Open Courts, and South Africa’s Crime Hub, stand out as open justice tools.
e-Courts seeks to provide timely, transparent, and accessible data to all stakeholders and enhance productivity and efficiency within judicial bodies themselves. This project began in 2007 with the computerisation of subordinate courts. The e-Courts National portal (ecourts.gov.in), launched in 2013, the portal generates and updates data in “real time” and contains relevant summarised reports on the judicial delivery system for all the stakeholders27.
A push for more transparency (with the support of Transparency International and the Restart Slovakia Project) in the Slovak judiciary has resulted in the creation of Open Courts, a portal that centralises judicial data publications, provides information on judges, and archives court hearings28. Like the e-Courts National Portal, Open Courts itself is not interactive and has copyright limitations. However, it does allow users to search open data freely.
In South Africa, the CrimeHub portal relies heavily on mapping and geospatial data to present ready-to-use crime statistics and analysis29. Funded by the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the CrimeHub was launched at the first International Conference on Crime and Criminal Justice in 201030. In partnership with the Institute for Security Studies, the CrimeHub was created to enhance the broad goals of sustainable development and greater economic prosperity.
Additionally, in 2019, the World Justice Project created the Rule of Law Index report. This report presents country and regional profiles based on rule of law, orpen government, and published crime statistics. Some of the factors that were measured included criminal justice, fundamental rights, openness of governments, and amount of open data publicly available. Most countries in Asia fall between the 0.3 - 0.55 range of an index where 0 is the lowest, and 1 is the highest score31. This report provides an exhaustive and comprehensive overview of datasets available in various countries. For parliamentarians, this is useful for identifying gaps and understanding the role that open crime and judicial data can play in national security and for the greater public interest.
Key actors involved in advocating for open justice in development efforts exist on the global stage. Some of these actors include: The Hague, Institute for Innovation of Law, Latin American Open Data Initiative, ODI, Transparency International, Open Society Foundations, IDRC, OGP, and mySociety32. Along with providing funds, their support has extended to providing information and technical skills to worldwide, regional, and national initiatives.
Independent data trackers are also key in verifying the accuracy of datasets and keeping initiatives in check. For example, a Guardian program called Mapping Police Violence which compiles data collected by individual police officers, has repeatedly outshone official government sources in terms of their completeness33. These kinds of initiatives by individuals are rarely recognised, yet, they have a profound impact on the quality of data produced.
Three initiatives outlined in a publication by the Department of Justice of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia, Spain highlight the possibility of creating successful initiatives at international and state levels that fulfill specific policy objectives. First, courts in Massachusetts, US, drafted a plan called “Reinventing Justice 2022”34. This plan came to fruition after a National Conference on the Future and Courts held in 1990. The draft plan detailed ways that the court system could be modernised and reformed through a systematic approach to decrease citizen dissatisfaction. While the success of this plan cannot be fully measured yet, similar plans are being implemented across various states in the US to address the root causes of mistrust.
Along with adopting ICT in the public sector, the UK is concerned with initiating a program that allows citizens to make sense of and reuse available data. To bridge the gap between citizens and the judiciary, Open Justice: Making Sense of Justice, was launched in 2015. Taking a participatory approach to justice, this initiative acknowledges the necessity of understanding of how judicial bodies operate. Volunteer participants, who facilitate communication with citizens and create tools to make judicial processes more comprehensible, form the backbone of this program35.
The Program of Judicial Facilitators lead by The Organization of American States (OAS) began in the late 90s to support judges in rural and isolated communities in Central and Latin America. Over time, this project grew into a multi-national effort to increase access to justice for lawyers and citizens in non-urban spaces through citizen collaboration mechanisms. Their primary objectives include preventing acts of injustice, providing legal advice, and mediating conflicts36. Each of these initiatives demonstrate that context-appropriate programs with specific objectives can be appropriately scaled up.
In Asia, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has partnered with the Republic of Korea to enhance, collect and analyse crime data of UN member states in the Asia-Pacific. In addition to collecting and analysing data, this initiative aims to provide technical assistance and training to countries in the Asia-Pacific regions to bolster their crime data systems and become increasingly self-sufficient in ensuring data quality, response rates, national capacities, and awareness among both parliamentarians and civil society to foster greater engagement37
Privacy: Judicial data, especially case data, can be controversial when it comes to maintaining the privacy and anonymity of individuals implicated. These concerns for privacy should inform the design open justice efforts. The challenge is not that privacy concerns exist, but that rules and procedures must be created in consultation with citizens - writing and implementing these procedures in an open and collaborative way can be a challenging undertaking. There are several volunteers and fact checkers holding institutions accountable, as previously mentioned, although depending on their efforts alone is unsustainable.
Institutional interoperability: Several initiatives listed above prove that initiatives can exist across multiple scales. When it comes to institutions themselves, there is often a lack of uniformity that exists in terms of its operations, how the data is collected, and the technical capacity within the institution to take on open data principles. One of the factors involved in enhancing institutional interoperability is standardisation of data and open data practices. Across district, state and federal levels, creating standards of sharing data, centralising portals, and offering uniformly formatted data can impede progression of the open justice movement due to the time, resources, and nationwide coordination it requires.
Evolving data: While institutions engaged in justice delivery are legacy structures38, legal and crime data is constantly evolving with terms and codifications being redefined. When institutions are required to transfer existing data onto new digital landscapes, monitoring the use and reuse of data, especially when it belongs to a term or clause that has been recently changed, is difficult. Moreover, older data that has not yet been archived in any open or digital format must also be accumulated on new platforms. The labour involved in this transfer requires massive amounts of resources and funding which can be challenging to source.
Political and cultural barriers: Perceptions of crime and justice institutions are fraught with tensions along racial, gender, class, and other socially grounded lines of division. Historically, the justice system has favoured of those with privileged identities. Moreover, the data communcting incidents of police violence, such as the number of shots taken, are some of the most difficult datasets to acquire. Many politically linked organisations and lobbyists may have an opinion (and therefore a say) in the kind of data made available in regards to police violence and how it can be reused. Thus, tensions between these various groups pose political and cultural barriers that underpin the advancement (or lack thereof) in opening up all forms of justice data.