The attempt to foster greater data cooperation across the European Union (EU), which should in turn further integrate the Digital Single Market, raises the question of whether the UK (and companies, national and international, operating within the UK) will lose out on the benefits come March 2019 when Brexit takes place?
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May recently said that whilst she would be aiming for “more than just an adequacy agreement” on data sharing with the EU after Brexit, she also confirmed that the UK would be leaving the Digital Single Market. Data adequacy is granted when the European Commission feels that a territory that is not part of the EU has data protection laws and practices that are aligned to the EU’s high standards.
However, whilst the UK goes its own way (whilst simultaneously committing to align as much as possible), the EU member states are getting closer and closer on data sharing initiatives, which will inevitably strengthen the Digital Single Market and its benefits.
What’s in the detail?
The proposals put forward this week by the European Commission build on the EU’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in less than a month’s time. The proposals will ensure:
- Better access to and reusability of public sector data: A revised law on Public Sector Information covers data held by public undertakings in transport and utilities sectors. The new rules mean that public bodies have less opportunity to charge more than the marginal costs to associated with releasing and reusing the data. They also oblige Member States to develop open access policies. Finally, the new rules require – where applicable – technical solutions like Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to provide real-time access to data (which is no doubt an attempt to take advantage of network effects).
- Scientific data sharing in 2018: A new set of recommendations offer guidance on implementing open access policies in line with open science objectives, research data and data management, the creation of a European Open Science Cloud, and text and data-mining. They also highlight the importance of incentives, rewards, skills and metrics appropriate for the new era of networked research.
- Private sector data sharing in business-to-business and business-to-governments contexts: A new Communication entitled “Towards a common European data space” provides guidance for businesses operating in the EU on the legal and technical principles that should govern data sharing collaboration in the private sector.
- Securing citizens' healthcare data while fostering European cooperation: The Commission says that it is setting out a plan of action that “puts citizens first when it comes to data on citizens' health” by: securing citizens' access to their health data and introducing the possibility to share their data across borders; by using larger data sets to enable more personalised diagnoses and medical treatment, and better anticipate epidemics; and by promoting appropriate digital tools, allowing public authorities to better use health data for research and for health system reforms. The proposal also covers the interoperability of electronic health records as well as a mechanism for voluntary coordination in sharing data – including genomic data – for disease prevention and research.
Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said:
The Digital Single Market is rapidly taking shape; but without data, we will not make the most of artificial intelligence, high-performance computing and other technological advances. These technologies can help us to improve healthcare and education, transport networks and make energy savings: this is what the smart use of data is all about.
Our proposal will free up more public sector data for re-use, including for commercial purposes, driving down the cost of access to data and helping us to create a common data space in the EU that will stimulate our growth.
Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel added:
With today's Communication we are pursuing an ambitious plan, the Digital Single Market Strategy, to make sure that we are in the best possible position to help our businesses, provide top-class research, and protect EU citizens.
Citizens and businesses will have access to better products and services as more and more data become available for data-driven innovation.
It’s possible that the UK may still be able to take part in this activity in some shape or form, once it leaves the EU, if it’s negotiations go well. However, I won’t hold my breath. It’s unlikely that the European Commission will allow the UK to reap the benefits of being in the Digital Single Market, if it isn’t contributing significantly. But this is where the UK will lose out - digital is about scale and whilst it could enter into agreements with countries elsewhere, as the EU continues to align, the UK will continue to isolate itself - with implications for trans-national business decisions.