Governments are sharing great quantities of data online, and making them accessible via Freedom of Information or other “sunshine” requests. And while there are inherent difficulties in getting a complete or unbiased data set of anything, it is particularly challenging when it is in a government’s self-interest to hide abuses and obstruct accountability. Marginalized groups may be excluded or hidden from, or under-counted by, the available information as a result of implicit bias, or even by design.
Data about economic and social rights may seem easier to gather since there is a plethora of official data in most countries about education, housing, water, and other core rights. This data is not designed to assess rights, however, meaning that it is at best proxy data for rights fulfillment. Even when there are flaws in the data collection or the data itself, however, the results can sometimes be useful to researchers and rights advocates. For instance, if the methodology for gathering data is consistent year after year, one may be able to draw certain types of conclusions about trends in respect for rights over time. If the data in question was collected by a government agency, it may be strategic for activists to lobby the government using its own data despite the flaws it contains—since such a strategy makes the conclusions that much harder to refute.