Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum by Association for Geographic Information (OS 13(a))

RESPONSE TO THE EC DG INFORMATION SOCIETY CONSULTATION ON TOWARDS A EU FRAMEWORK FOR THE EXPLOITATION PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION

  Comments from the Association for Geographic Information (AGI) on the DG Information Society working document Towards a European Union framework for the exploitation of public sector information published on 21 January 2002. As part of the consultation process the AGI has alerted its members to the DG Information Society Consultation document who may respond in their own right.

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Association for Geographic Information (AGI) registered within the UK is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee founded in 1989 (after a House of Lords Committee of Enquiry1 into geographic information chaired by Lord Chorley) to represent the interests of all those concerned with geographic information in the UK. The AGI has about 1,500 members in individual, corporate and sponsor member categories. It is the largest representative organisation for the Geographic Information (GI) community in the UK. The AGI also plays a significant role at the European and Global level through its membership of the EURopean umbrella Organisation for Geographic Information (EUROGI).

  2.  The mission of the AGI is to "maximise the use of geographic information for the benefit of the citizen, good governance and commerce".

  3.  The AGI membership represents a broad church of organisations and individuals that are users, producers, service providers or a combination of all three from the public, private, academic and voluntary sectors.

  The AGI membership includes:

    —  Central government departments, Trading Funds, wholly owned public limited companies, Local government, and Regional Assemblies. These public sector organisations are both providers of data and services as well as users of GI is their own right.

    —  Utilities.

    —  Health Authorities.

    —  Police Authorities.

    —  Emergency Services.

    —  Professional organisations and sector based representative bodies.

    —  Private sector information companies eg online information services.

    —  Private sector technology, data and service suppliers.

    —  Non Government Organisations; and

    —  Universities and Research organisations.

  As such the views represented by the AGI are balanced in that they take into account the majority and minority views of its membership, although not all will be in full agreement with this response hence the reason the AGI encourages its members to submit responses in their own right.

  4.  The AGI welcomes this opportunity to comment on the DG Information Society working document on a legal statute that will mandate the framework for the exploitation of public sector data within the EU.

GENERAL COMMENTS ON THE WORKING DOCUMENT

  5.  The AGI welcomes and supports the EC DG Information Society initiative to establish a legal instrument, which has the objective of establishing a legal framework for the exploitation of Public Sector Data across the EU. The AGI is of the opinion that the establishment of such a framework is well over due.

  6.  The AGI encourages the EC DG Information Society to take a much stronger lead with regard to working towards the establishment of the framework and recommends that member states be given a set time period in order to comply with the framework once agreed and introduced, eg five years.

  7.  The AGI is of the opinion that such a framework should appear on the EU statute book within 12 to 24 months of the closing date of this consultation.

  8.  The modernising government initiatives that are now well advanced within member states have already brought about positive changes within individual member states. However each member state is still an information island within the EU. A framework is urgently required in order to harmonise the access to, and the reuse of public sector data across Europe. Without such a framework the higher objectives of the EU including those of capitalising on the Information Age and the knowledge economy are unlikely to be achieved at the EU level.

  9.  Geographic Information plays an important role not only in achieving seamless government but also a seamless information society. The information islands referred to in paragraph eight above impede cross border initiatives. The framework if it were in existence would assist with such issues that currently face government, business and the citizen.

  10.  The AGI is willing to support DG Information Society through the consultation processes and also to provide further information on this response if required.

21 February 2002

COMMENTS ON THE QUESTIONS POSED IN THE WORKING DOCUMENT

Question 1:Will the measure proposed in the working paper contribute to increase the possibilities to re-use public sector information resources throughout Europe and thereby enhance employment and economic growth?

ANSWER 1

  Yes—the measures set out in the working paper are a good starting point. However these fall short of what is required and need to be strengthened in the following areas:

  The regulatory regime should be strengthened and broaden from that proposed in Section 12 and 13 of the draft instrument. The instrument should ensure that at a minimum the regulatory authority reports at least annually to the parliaments at the European and member state levels. The report should include recommendations for action where the instrument has not been implemented, is being abused, is being circumvented within member states. The regulatory framework should cover at a minimum:

    —  the framework is adhered to between member states and within member states;

    —  that public sector wholly owned trading companies are acting on a level playing field with private sector companies;

    —  that all member states have implemented EU legislation to a similar level in the areas of data protection, privacy, freedom of information;

    —  that member states including EU institutions do not give themselves greater protection on IPR over and above the legal statutes that protect the IPR of private sector companies; eg crown copyright in the UK;

    —  that business and citizens can take their case to the EU data regulatory authority in cases where a member state regulatory authority is either:

      —  non existent; and/or

      —  only provides regulation in certain areas eg in the UK the HMSO regulatory authority that comes into force on the 1 April 2002 only applies to Crown copy material within departments and does not regulate other parts of the public sector ie local government, regional government, government trading funds, wholly owned government companies;

    —  trading practices within the public sector including setting of data specifications that manipulate the market either directly or indirectly;

    —  the issues related to cross subsidisation of one data set by another data set especially by public sector trading funds or companies.

    —  ensuring member states do not avoid the framework by including data exclusion clauses within other legislation eg the Freedom of Information Act, the Human Rights Act, etc;

    —  Ensuring core data sets that are in the national interest of each member state and the EU included within the framework. If this is not the case then initially the framework should ensure as a minimum the regulatory function should be strengthened and made mandatory with regard to such data sets.

Question 2:What should the exact scope of any instrument in terms of public sector organisation and types of information covered (section 2)?

ANSWER 2

  The instrument should ensure all parts of the public sector are included within the framework from the neighbourhood through to the local, regional, national and European levels. Where the definition of public sector as a minimum includes all parts of the public sector that report to:

    —  a publicly elected person;

    —  a group of publicly elected people, eg such as Councils, Assemblies Parliaments;

    —  a central government department which itself reports to or is headed by a publicly elected person;

    —  where another public sector body appoints the managing authority of a body that itself reports to a publicly elected person.

  and/or

    —  receive public sector funding, however small, to undertake activities that relate to data in the national interest;

    —  claim to be acting in the national interest;

    —  advise government on policy related to data, information and its use within the public sector and they also sell data and information on the open market.

  Where in the above context a publicly elected person is a politician.

  All information generated by the public sector either directly or indirectly through a transparent open procurement process should be covered by the instrument.

  Data licensed for use within the public sector from a private sector data provider that operates on the open market with such data should be excluded.

  The provisions within the instrument should ensure that the public sector itself is not inhibited from exploiting the best techniques and information technology to undertake its remit, eg the use of licensed data together with public sector data in a geographical information system providing such uses are for its own use and not for competing with the private sector.

Question 3: How should the conflict between what is proposed and the re-use of information protected by intellectual property rights be resolved?

Can a distinction between raw data and added value material be made operational?

ANSWER 3

  The AGI is of the opinion that the IPR relationships that apply to public sector data are no different to those in other sectors of society. For example the private sector which use licences to protect IPR and the law on the statute book either within the member state or at the UE level. The public sector should not be given special status otherwise the playing field will not be level.

  The information age initiatives are bringing about radical change to data holdings. For example core reference data sets underpin the information age. This is especially the case where such data sets are definitive and sustainable and are constructed and maintained in a transparent way. As such core data sets become well established and widely used a simplification of data sets will be enabled and occur. As this transition becomes more apparent data sets within the public sector will more closely conform to the definition of raw data rather than added value data. A direct consequence of this is likely to lower the costs of data acquisition and maintenance, improve the quality and reliability of the data, which collectively will encourage the exploitation of public sector, data sets for reuse. The legal framework should ensure that it supports this process. The AGI would be willing to participate in consultation forums with the DG Information Society or in one to one meetings to develop this area further.

  The AGI is of the opinion that a distinction between raw and value added data can be made operational which also takes into account the point made above.

  The AGI also is of the opinion that core reference data sets should be defined and included in the legal framework.

Question 4: Are the measures proposed in this working paper to ensure transparency of conditions for re-use the right ones to facilitate a broad re-use of public sector information in the Information Society?

ANSWER 4

  Partially.

  Paragraph 2 of section 8 is too loose. The conditions for the re-use must not just be clearly and unambiguously expressed but also ensure that they are not restrictive. For example the conditions set should not be used as a mechanism to avoid data leakage, or the possibility that the public sector may offer a competitive alternative by acquiring and reusing the data.

  Transparency is also required on procurement processes related to data and information and to software and applications that are claimed to be compliant with a government adopted standard ie in order to encourage data interoperability member states may introduce mandatory government standards and/or the use of core reference data sets. For example a street, property, land gazetteers.

  Transparency is also required as to how the public sector itself uses public sector data especially within public sector trading organisations or wholly owned companies that use public sector data within their data products and then compete in the market place ie unfair trading—not a level playing field.



 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 24 June 2002