US Government Urged to Standardize Internal API ToS

Mark Boyd
Mar. 20 2014, 12:22PM EDT

U.S. Government officials are being encouraged to provide comments and suggestions for a standard API Terms of Service (ToS). The hope is that a standard ToS could be used by any government agency making open data accessible via API. Launching the consultation via the Government API Google Group and on Github, key stakeholders believe the time is right to streamline the process of making API Terms of Service more relevant to developers who want to make use of government open data sources. Developers are now adding their feedback and perspectives to a Github issues repository.

Swedish Licensing Model

Already, the Swedish API Licensing site is gaining some traction as a potential model. Launched at the Nordic APIs event in November last year, the Swedish API License provides an interactive, online template model that enables API providers — which could include open data publishers within government agencies — to create a clear and accessible Terms of Service.

Key questions for Government API Providers

While 19 agencies share a common Terms of Service for their APIs, there are still at least another 5 in use at the national level, and countless more being documented by individual state and city governments across the United States.

Gray Brooks, Senior API Strategist with the General Services Administration, is trying to encourage input from all levels of Government and all government agencies via the US Government API Google Group.

Calling out to list members, he provides a list of current Terms of Service used across Government agencies and writes:

"Here's what we need:

  • Which clauses are unnecessary for government's needs? Why?
  • Which clauses are worded in a way that can cause problems for developers? How could they be worded differently?
  • Is there a missing clause that best practices would suggest including? What is an example of we can see?
  • Which clauses could be improved with simpler language? What are examples or suggested versions that we can see?

This is a time when we can work together on one great product that benefits every federal agency for years to come. The more developer-friendly we make government APIs, the better for everyone."

In response to the call, on Github, some government API providers and developers are beginning to discuss best practices.

Already there seems to be some agreement that attribution clauses may not be warranted in Government open data API Terms of Service.

Github user “Knowtheory” also queries why there should be a difference in scraping data from a Government website versus accessing the data via API:

“If I'm scraping or crawling [a government site], what guidelines am I currently constrained by? How/why should that differ from when I access an API?”

Developers can add their comments to the Github issues page or join the Government API Google Group to contribute to the discussion.

By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self and e-commerce. He can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities. I can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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