New EU directive will see increased data sharing among public sector bodies

24 Jan 2019

Andrus Ansip. Image: Etienne Ansotte/EC Audiovisual Services

Officials from EU bodies have worked together on a directive to unlock benefits from anonymised public sector data.

Negotiators from the European Commission, Parliament and Council have come to an agreement on a revised directive that will facilitate the availability and reuse of public sector data in the EU, boosting data sharing.

The Directive on Open Data and Public Sector Information, which is fully GDPR-compliant, includes updates on the framework for public sector data sharing – in particular, the increasing amount of “high-value” data becoming widely available.

It also covers the dissemination of public sector information such as anonymised household energy consumption, national or regional literacy and education levels, meteorological data, and traffic information.

The lifeblood of the economy

Vice-president for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, said: “Data is increasingly the lifeblood of today’s economy, and unlocking the potential of public open data can bring significant economic benefits.

“The total direct economic value of public sector information and data from public undertakings is expected to increase from €52bn in 2018 to €194bn by 2030. With these new rules in place, we will ensure that we can make the most of this growth.”

Commissioner for digital economy and society, Mariya Gabriel, said: “Public sector information has already been paid for by the taxpayer. Making it more open for reuse benefits the European data economy by enabling new, innovative products and services – for example, based on artificial intelligence technologies.”

Looking beyond the economic benefits, Gabriel noted that open data from the public sector is also important in a democratic society “because it increases transparency and supports a facts-based public debate”.

There are rules in place as part of the EU open data policy to encourage member states to facilitate the reuse of data from the public sector with minimal constraints, but digital progress means the world has changed dramatically since they were first introduced in 2003, so revisions were required.

What do the new rules cover?

All public sector content that can be attained under national-access-to-documents rules is, in principle, freely available for reuse. Public sector bodies will not be able to charge more than the marginal cost for the reuse of their data, except in very limited cases.

There is a particular focus on high-value datasets such as statistics or geospatial data within the new directive, due to their high commercial potential. Public service firms in the transport and utilities sector generate valuable data. The decision on whether or not their data has to be made available is covered by different national or European rules, but when their data is available for reuse, they will now be covered by the directive.

Organisations will have to comply with the principles of the directive and ensure the use of appropriate data formats and dissemination methods, while still being able to set charges to recoup costs.

Under the directive, safeguards will be put in place to reinforce transparency and to limit business agreements that could lead to exclusive reuse of public sector data by private partners, such as data-sharing deals struck between private firms and public sector bodies.

More real-time data, available via application programming interfaces (APIs), will allow companies to develop new services, such as mobility apps. Member states must now develop policies for open access to publicly funded research data while harmonised rules on reuse will be applied to all publicly funded research data, which is made accessible via repositories.

The European Parliament and Council will formally adopt the revised data-sharing rules, with member states then having to implement them within two years.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects