info2000 logo GREEN PAPER ON PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION
IN THE INFORMATION SOCIETY

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BLANCO Ana Beatriz - "Fruit & Veg" Project


In my opinion, when we refer to the public sector and in particular when it concerns topics such as the information it generates, the value of such an information and its accessibility, the best definition for the public sector is the financial approach, whereby the public sector includes all bodies mainly financed by public funds.

When talking about transparency of the public sector information we are referring to the total accessibility to the flow of information; therefore, all information categories should come into debate. Nevertheless, access to given individual information implies the non-fulfilment of the private property and privacy rights.

Access to essential information for the functioning of democracy should be totally free; actually, it is the only type of information with an easy access in our country. The only problem with this kind off information is its difficult comprehension for those who are not experts in the matter. This means that a high percentage of the population will not be interested in law matters. The public sector information is usually difficult to use; it requires some expert help in order to understand it, thus implying ignorance of the legislation application in many fields.

CONDITIONS FOR ACCESS TO PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION

The different conditions for access to the public sector information by the different Member States raise a number of questions because the information required is not only accessible in one single state. This implies that information cannot be compared. Access conditions should be the same both for national citizens and businesses and for foreigners, the latter not requiring a particular interest to ask for this information.

Adequate access to public sector information is essential for the mobility of workers, businesses establishment, etc. Allowing the greatest possibility of access to information to non-national citizens (using the same easy procedures in all countries) favours transparency of the European public sector information.

Access to national information often becomes complicated; non-nationals need to learn access procedures, which in our country are very long and hard to acquire. It is also true that to homogenise access rules in all Member States implies a revision of the administrative processes; if the procedure to obtain information is similar, then operations to process this information should also be alike.

The use of information and Communication Technologies smoothens public administration internal operations and helps the gathering of public sector information for its dissemination. New technologies are vital to the transparency of the public sector information.

Public sector information availability in a user-friendly way will reduce time problems for the public sector bodies to react. At the moment, the greatest effort by the public sector should be done in making the information available through modern technologies instead of gathering a higher amount of information.

To have different access rules may not affect in a relevant European level way concerning issues such as quantity and format, but it surely affects when talking about interest requirements, exemptions and how quick should the public sector react to information requests. The fact that the exemptions to the right of access differ in all the Member States leads us once again to an access restriction of the public sector information, and to a discriminatory situation among the information users.

ESTABLISHMENT OF EUROPEAN META-DATA

To analyse the establishment of useful tools as a guide for 'information clients' is a specially kind work for a private business devoted to communication as it is Ediciones de Horticultura. It is not only important to make the information available to clients or users, but it is also important to help them in its use. To put in place the information by user-friendly search mechanisms will make their life much more pleasant and will help the public sector to reduce the time of answer and the number of people to help the clients. nevertheless, it is an essential matter to let them know that these mechanisms exist, that they are easy to use, that they are available for all citizens...

One of the issues that merits discussion, from my point of view, is that the public sector information has a very important amount of information that could help to the European development not only in the economic level, but also in a social level, in public health, industry... and the users, citizens and businesses may not be aware of this fact.

It is a problem of 'lack of knowledge'; it is as important to have beneficial information as making it available and thus ease its use for positive purposes. It is a problem of 'publicity'. My opinion is that the establishment of European meta-data is not only useful, but necessary to enhance the use of public information in an easy way, meaning that there is no need to increase the public administration staff to facilitate the information. Citizens and businesses should regularly receive messages with the information available by the public sector, its accessibility and how to use it, etc.

From my point of view, the contents of the meta-data and directories comprise two types:

  • a first group on how to access to the information, how to compile it, access from different countries, which ways should be followed to access... At present, many citizens do not access to this information because they do not know where to request it.
  • a second type of contents for directories in which it should be explained what kind of information is available in the public sector. It should be a compilation of the existent databases, gathered considering the data characteristics, social, economic, geographic issues... The ways in which this information is compiled are numerous.

In brief, the directories should inform us about 'how to use' and 'which is' the information available. It is a practical tool to publicise and show how to use the information. These directories must be real help tools, far from being a law or a difficult to understand document. It should be an easy-to-read document, with explanations, with a comprehensible non-technical or scientific language, that is to say, a communicative document.

PRICING ISSUES

The establishment of different pricing policies about the public sector information access leads us once again to the matter of inequality of discrimination of a part of the information users. If the policies are different in all the Member States, the quantity paid in one or another country for the same kind of information will differ. Therefore, the development of content industries from given countries benefit from the public sector information produced at the expense of taxpayers, while, while others may pay higher prices. This creates differences in the competitiveness of the different states contents industries, and a clear competitive disadvantage from the European industry compared to the US.

In my opinion, the more we preclude access to the public sector information, being at an economic, legal level, etc. the less we favour the industrial and economic development of the States, and therefore, Europe. We are reducing the amount of private business initiatives to exploit public information. If the public sector is to exploit this information and create an added-value, the investment made by the administration increases.

I do not think that the key to the exploitation of the public information should be given by the growth of the public sector, but due to ceasing tasks of contents exploitation of the public sector. The public sector should be in charge of creating data and assure that they are 100% reliable.

The quality of the information available by the public sector is a question we have not discussed about, but the investment in verification and provement by the contents industry is remarkable. From my point of view, the pricing of data cannot be determined considering that it is produced at the expense of taxpayers; nevertheless, we can establish prices to the added-value produced when processing the information, interrelating it, presenting it in a user-friendly format, etc. Users may be charged for the exploitation of the information that is not financed by taxpayers. If the public sector guarantees the quality of the data, the expenses in information verification would reduce, and the private sector would offer reduced price products, that is to say, more available products.

In the same way, I do not think that pricing should be established according to the use we will make of the information. Public information is as public for a citizen as it is for any business that wishes to use it for its benefit or for society's benefit.

UNFAIR COMPETITION

It is possible that the public sector offers products at less than the market price, since information in this sector is produced at the expense off taxpayers. On the other side, the private sector has higher expenses when producing this information or receiving it from the public sector, resulting on higher prices in the market.

Fair competition may be adversely affected once public sector organisations offer added-value information to the market; thus, its repercussion may be wider in a European level.

The private sector should collaborate to the development of the European industry releasing valuable or useful information products for its exploitation in other countries.

If the public sector at a European level commercialises public added-value information at lower market prices than the private businesses, there will be a situation of unfair competition. In the Emerging Information Society, communication and contents businesses play a very important role in the development of the European Industry; nevertheless, such performances from the public sector may stop this increasing development. By assuring the quality of the information and the implantation of mechanisms to facilitate the access to this information will allow private businesses to offer this information at more accessible prices.

This is a subject to develop by the private sector, generating more economic activity at a European level.

COPYRIGHT ISSUES

Different copyright regimes within the Member States may represent barriers or the exploitation of public sector information. When exploiting information, we will have access to data of some countries but not to others who have the copyrights on information. This leads us once again to the non transparency of data.

As we are referring to public sector information, its copyright should belong to the "public"; therefore, copyrights should not represent a barrier for the exploitation of such information. Regimes on different Member States should be balanced if we wish to refer to it as a global European information, and not individualised by States.

Moreover, to establish different copyright regimes involves a competitive disadvantage for those enterprises of the private sector that work with the information of the public sector, whose copyright is protected.

PRIVACY ISSUES

Access to public sector information should be limited since we are referring to the exploitation of information with personal nature. Its use may pose risks for the privacy of the individual.

From my point of view, the matter of privacy when accessing to personal data justifies the existence of a principle of purpose limitation, and the requirement of a particular interest as a condition for accessing. Privacy issues require special attention when dealing with the exploitation off public sector information. Purpose limitation or a given interest would be the right option for the protection of personal data. It is a key issue to determine whether a given information is considered personal data and in consequence not accessible or to be published. Interest may be stressed in obtaining from the data information that could benefit society in general.

This kind of data should never be exposed to public knowledge (thus maintaining its personal nature) but as a statistical result. When exploiting this data as statistics, we talk about results, tests and general population characteristics, but we never refer to individual persons or data which could help identification.

In my opinion, a commercial interest would be justified whenever access to data benefits society or any given collectivity which could profit from this information, always avoiding any individual reference.

This kind of information requires, from my point of view, a preparing process from the public sector before making it available for any individual use. If this data has no previous processing, it would mean a risk for individual rights to privacy.

This would become a restricted public information, not accessible through new technologies in a direct way.

EU INFORMATION

We are in a society of gradual growth of new technologies; the number of citizens who have access to information is also increasing, not necessarily from the public sector, through the modern communication media. As this situation will not change, the available information in web site format is also on the increase. Its accessibility conveys it a useful character since availability through other media is often difficult, slow, with different access rules... this is the case of the public sector information.

The efforts on the public sector information dissemination should centre on offering help with new technologies, instead of developing other kind of means which imply a larger amount of people from the administration working to achieve this information.

Concerning dissemination, I consider it an essential matter to have web sites in which a large amount of information is offered, informing users of where they can find it. There is no use in having information in an accessible way if users ignore where to find it and need to resort once again to the public sector or other traditional means, resulting in slow reaction time... EU institutions have very complete and developed web sites with a complex link structure to access to very different information at the internet.

To these web sites, that can be consulted by anyone who wishes to visit them, we should add initiatives such as the European points off information, the Carrefours and other initiatives supported by the European Community to promote knowledge or use of these new technologies in less developed areas. These centres have equipment at the disposal of users, and they inform citizens and businesses about where to search information and about the European initiatives that could be interesting for them. These centres, apart from fomenting the use of these new technologies through the disposal of computer tools, guide new users to an efficient search of public sector information.

A way of improving information dissemination policies is to inform a great citizen universe about the possibility to access to this information, i.e. creating new information points in universities. Youngsters represent a wide group of users of new technologies; therefore, they are capable of being educated in such a culture. By educating this group we assure a high percentage of citizens that will use modern and easier media to address the public sector, whether they request data or any other kind of procedure.

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