EU to make public data easily accessible
By Philip Ebels
The European Commission on Monday (12 December) proposed that public data in the EU be easily accessible and open to re-use, a move it says will spur economic growth.
The proposal aims to revise existing legislation on the re-use of public sector information, making all public data easily accessible and allowing it to be re-used for any purpose at marginal cost. Today, gaining permission to use publicly held data - such as geographical or meteorological statistics, data from publicly funded research projects, or digitised books from libraries - is often costly and complicated.
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“Today's package will radically shake up how the EU institutions and most public authorities in Europe share their data. Public data generated by all administrations in Europe will become automatically re-usable," EU digital affairs commissioner Neelie Kroes told reporters in Brussels. The proposal is nothing short of "a revolution", she said.
The commission will begin by making its own public data more accessible by means of an online data portal, to be up and running in the spring of 2012.
Kroes had calculated that the use of public information currently generates €32 billion in economic activity, a figure she said could double if companies were able to more easily tap into the “goldmine” of public data. Developers of smart-phone apps that provide real-time traffic or weather information, for example, would be among the beneficiaries.
“The best way to get value from data is to give it away,” she said.
Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini has welcomed the proposal, saying that the move would contribute to more transparent governance.
“Governments often find transparency terribly scary,” she said in a statement.
But beyond making public data more accessible, the proposal does not actually make more government information public. There is also no mention of a review of the way that information is classified - a thorny subject in EU circles.
The European Parliament has long argued with the commission and member states about a revision of existing legislation, in place since 2001.
Last month, the civil liberties committee adopted changes that "seek to improve transparency, accountability and democracy within EU institutions," according to Labour MEP Micheal Cashman, in charge of the dossier.
The parliament is expected to vote on the report in plenary on Wednesday. If approved, the proposal would widen the scope of documents that can be made public and apply to all EU entities, including the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank.