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The Open Data Movement



What is it about?

On 21st April, Microsoft launched the Open Data Campaign to foster the sharing of data among governments, businesses and public in general to address the "data divide"and tackle societal problems. It announced 3 steps that it will take as part of this campaign:


  1. It will be publishing new principles that will guide how it approaches sharing data with others

  2. It will develop 20 new collaborations build around shared data by 2022. This includes working with leading organisations in the open data movement like the Open Data Institute and The Governance Lab.

  3. It will invest in the essential assets that will make data sharing easier.


So what is "open data"? It is a data that can be freely used and re-used without physical or legal restrictions. The idea of open data is not something new. It was first introduced in 1995 by the Global Change Data and Information System (GCDIS) in the US in the context of environmental data; it supported the promotion of geophysical and environmental data to understand and solve global issues. Open data can cover any types of data that is beneficial to be shared, such as data on health, education or technology. Recently, the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic highlighted to importance of governments and organisations around the world sharing data and gave force to the open data movement.


The OECD expects that sharing data will allow countries to gain 1-2.5% additional GDP. Also, given that these days, fewer than 100 firms capture more than half of data generated online, greater data sharing can help counteract the data oligarchies. Most importantly, the current covid-10 pandemic has shown how making data readily available and encouraging cooperation between organisations is key to solving a global problem.


Thinking beyond

In order for the open data movement to be successful, legislations might need to be updated. The EU has already made legislative efforts to encourage re-use of public sector information by amending the PSI Directive (first introduced in 2003) in 2013. Whilst the previous version did not make it mandatory for public bodies to make public data (such as any data possessed by the government) accessible, the new version reversed that position. Also, for personal data within the ambit of GDPR, it provides that the principle of access to public sector information can be taken into account when applying the GDPR.


However, difficulties still remain as to the interaction between the two laws. According to Julien, Jasmien and Isis from Bird&Bird, the wide definition of “personal data” make most of the public data involving personal data being caught by GDPR and the re-use of those data for both commercial and non-commercial purposes conflicts with the principle of purpose limitation in the GDPR. Therefore, the EU would have to carry out a balancing exercise to decide whether there may be cases where disclosing public data involving personal data is more important than strictly protecting privacy rights and consider compromising part of the GDPR for the directive.

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