Legal and Institutional Challenges for Opening Data across Public Sectors: Towards Common Policy Solutions

By de Rosnay, Melanie Dulong; Janssen, Katleen | Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research, September 2014 | Go to article overview

Legal and Institutional Challenges for Opening Data across Public Sectors: Towards Common Policy Solutions


de Rosnay, Melanie Dulong, Janssen, Katleen, Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research


1 Introduction

The benefits of opening up public data are hard to deny. The availability of data held by public bodies increases the transparency and accountability of the public sector and enables public participation [2], [4], [32]-[33]. It enables citizens to know their rights and obligations, and to enjoy the benefits of a better service delivery by the public sector and a return on investment from their tax contributions [5], [33], [43]. Public data can be used by citizens to start communicating with each other and build a collective consciousness [37]. Next to these social benefits, opening up public data also encourages economic growth and innovation [34], [50], for instance with regard to public welfare, environmental issues, public health, scientific research and cultural heritage. Such data is an essential resource for many information products and services. Finally, the public sector itself can also profit from increased access to public data produced by other services [2], [32], [36]. The combination of datasets can increase serendipity for decision-making, and attention for making data available will lead to better internal data management and information preservation policies and practices.

However, the potential remains underdeveloped. First, public data often stay locked within one public body and are not made available to other parties. Next, even if they would be available, the data are often difficult to find and even more difficult to use, due to the restrictive use conditions and/or charges that may be attached to them. This is caused by insufficient and unclear legislation, lack of knowledge of existing contractual and technical tools and barriers within the public sector.

The objective of the paper is to identify if common issues and challenges to the accessibility and reusability of public sector information can be identified across different sectors, and if common solutions can be designed. This paper addresses some of the legal, cultural and institutional challenges limiting the availability of public data for any type of use. Availability for any type of use requires both unrestricted accessibility and reusability. Accessibility is defined as the possibility to read without legal (law and licence), economic (fee or subscription) or technical (registration or closed format) barriers [9] other than having a computer with internet access and standard software. The possibility to reuse goes further than mere access, as it implies the data can legally, economically and technically not only be read but also mined, incorporated or otherwise transformed to produce new data. The paper is based on literature research and desk research on existing initiatives of opening up public data, and on the analysis of regulations, policy documents, reports and news items. The analysis is based on legal analysis, legal argumentation and policy recommendations with a technical perspective aiming at maximizing availability. The review of regulation proposes an accurate panorama of the various types of issues. In selecting the cases and initiatives illustrating a classification of the barriers to the availability of public data, we focused on the European Union and its Member States as this research took place within the LAPSI 2.0 European Thematic Network on Legal Aspects of Public Sector Information (Site 27). We analyse various sectors in order to identify commonalities and differences, and to make policy recommendations that could have a cross-fertilizing effect on the availability of public data. While there are many definitions of both data and public (and related terms such as public sector, public service, government, administration, public sector bodies, public authorities, etc), we chose to take a broad perspective on both terms, avoiding debates on particular public bodies or datasets, which would make it difficult to produce general recommendations. We consider public data to be any type of content held by any organization financed and/or governed by the State, in formats such as raw data, compilations, information, photographs, reports, books, and any other copyrightable or non copyrightable works, including bibliographical notices, metadata, databases and their underlying structures and ontologies. …

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