EU agrees new rules for sharing and re-use of public sector data

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez January 23, 2019
The EU has reached an agreement on a revised directive that will facilitate the availability and re-use of public sector data - market estimated to be worth €194 billion by 2030.

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Negotiators from the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission have reached an agreement on a revised directive - the Open Data and Public Sector Information (PSI) director - that aims to help improve the availability and re-use of public sector data.

The Vice President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, said that PSI is “one of the last - and most impactful - building blocks of the Digital Single Market”.

The law was last updated in 2013, but negotiators from across the EU felt that barriers remained in place regarding access to public sector data.

The European Commission said that making sure high-quality, high-value data from publicly funded services is widely and freely available is a key factor in accelerating European innovation in fields such as artificial intelligence.

As part of the EU Open Data Policy, rules are already in place to encourage member states to facilitate the re-use of data from the public sector with minimal or no legal, technical and financial constraints. However, negotiators across the EU felt that an update to the 2013 laws was needed to further ease access.

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 €52 billion in 2018 to €194 billion by 2030.

“With these new rules in place, we will ensure that we can make the most of this growth.”

What’s changed?

According to a release by the European Commission, the PSI directive now covers the following:

  • All public sector content that can be accessed under national access to documents rules is in principle freely available for re-use. Public sector bodies will not be able to charge more than the marginal cost for the re-use of their data, except in very limited cases. The European Commission believes this will allow more SMEs and start-ups to enter new markets in providing data-based products and services.
  • A particular focus will be placed on high-value datasets such as statistics or geospatial data. These datasets, the release states, have a high commercial potential, and can speed up the emergence of a wide variety of value-added information products and services.
  • Public service companies 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 re-use, they will now be covered by the Open Data and Public Sector Information Directive. This means they 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 reasonable charges to recover related costs.
  • Some public bodies strike complex data deals with private companies, which can potentially lead to public sector information being ‘locked in'. Safeguards will therefore be put in place to reinforce transparency and to limit the conclusion of agreements which could lead to exclusive re-use of public sector data by private partners.
  • More real-time data, available via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), will allow companies, especially start-ups, to develop innovative products and services, e.g. mobility apps. Publicly-funded research data is also being brought into the scope of the directive: Member States will be required to develop policies for open access to publicly funded research data while harmonised rules on re-use will be applied to all publicly-funded research data which is made accessible via repositories.

In a blog post, Vice President Ansip said:

“Data’s very concept is changing. It has become a commodity: its ownership can be transferred, it can be marketed, reused, aggregated, transformed, bought and sold.

“Today’s rules do not cover data generated by energy and transport utilities, or publicly funded research - even though much of it is fully or partly funded by public money.

“Let me give a couple of examples. In Sweden, Seapilot produces navigation apps based on marine chart data. This publicly funded data is freely available for reuse in the United States. But in the EU, costs for the same datasets vary from €2,745 to as much as €18,000 per country. Then, of course, you need to multiply these costs by 28.

“In one EU country, business registers available for re-use cost €75,000 a year. But since there are only two clients for this, the economic value coming from the data gathered by public authorities is not optimal.

“Think what it could be if these datasets were freely available to developers and app creators.”

The European Parliament and the Council of the EU will now need to formally adopt the revised rules, with member states then having to implement them within two years before they become effective. The European Commission has said that it will start working with member states on the identification of the high-value datasets which will be set out in an implementing act.