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Commission tightens up public data rules and targets utilities

Public sector information is not the most well-known aspect of data, but it has a rich history, with the most famous example dating from 1086 when William the Conqueror used tax-payers’ money to collect cadastral, economic and geographic information from his newly acquired citizens. However the data in the Domesday Book was only made available for re-use to a select group of literate barons and tax collectors. Furthermore, it was not particularly accessible, in that it was written in medieval latin, was highly abbreviated, included some vernacular native terms without Latin equivalents and was not in digital format.

Fast forward almost a thousand years, and the Commission has proposed to revise the current Directive on the reuse of Public Sector Information whereby all information, with a few exceptions, that is collected by public authorities at the taxpayers’ expense should be made both available and accessible for reuse.

This is the second revision of the PSI Directive since the original 2003. The 2013 revision sought to further harmonise and strengthen rules on redress, charging, licensing and accessibility. This third incarnation builds on previous changes and seeks to further to drive down charges, make redress mechanisms more straight-forward and to make more and high-value raw data not just available, but also more accessible – and in real time.

What is new, is that it also focuses on a hitherto grey-area by specifically including within the scope undertakings who receive public money such as energy utilities, transport and postal services and also publicly funded research information. It also seeks to increase transparency, as Member States should produce lists of such undertakings and public authorities and its datasets.

Don’t expect the process to be straight-forward. First there will, like last time, be confusion over what exactly is PSI compared to big data, open data and open government. Secondly, like any Directive that touches on personal data, there will be controversy as to what data should be available for reuse, even though this is not within the EU’s competence. And finally, as with any extension of scope to include new sectors, there will be a strong call for clarity and rush for information.

The legislative process has just started in the Council of the EU, with delegates having received a presentation from the Commission at the beginning of May. Meanwhile, the European Parliament is the initial stage of choosing a lead committee (although likely to be ITRE) and a rapporteur. We can expect work in earnest to start in June/July – just enough time to squeeze in before the March 2019 deadline under this mandate. The legislative process was definitely quicker under William the Conqueror.

Oliver Kaye is a partner at IDA Group and has worked on Public Sector Information policy since 2009.

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