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IN THE INFORMATION SOCIETY

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Lantmäteriet


This is response and a reaction on issues in the Green Paper on Public Sector Information from LantmäterietLantmäteriet is a governmental agency, among other things, responsible for mapping and cadastral activities in Sweden. Lantmäteriet produces, maintains and distributes geographical and cadastral information.

Summary

Lantmäteriet express the following opinions:

  • We stress the difference between accessibility for the purpose of transparency and other purposes.
  • The principle of subsidiarity must be guiding on the issuses discussed.
  • There are different types of public information.
  • Public sectors bodies claim of copyright is not an abuse.
  • There must be several price models.
  • Public bodies must be allowed to strive for cost recovery solutions in the market.
  • Special attention /solutions must be made for geographical information.
  • Metadata is of crucial importance for access to public sector information.

Question 1

Which definition of public sector is most appropriate in your view? 
What categories of public sector information should be used in the debate?

A definition of the public sector must, de lege lata, be made from the national constitutional framework. For Sweden the functional approach is most appropriate. The definition given in the paper is covered by the constitution of Sweden.

From a general view, Lantmäteriet feel that there are several dimensions or levels in the discussion on public information. The most important is the democracy dimension. The question of transparency is of extreme importance here. The right of accessibility for this purpose must be combined with free accessible metadata on documents held by public bodies.

It will also be necessary to make a difference between more and less important information. The distinction between administrative andnon-administrative information is convenient. Certainly it will be important for the democracy dimension that administrative information is accessible to a higher degree than non-administrative in the society.

But even non-administrative information ought to be available in society. This raises questions on a difference between accessibility for the purpose of democracy, control (transparency) and accessibility for other purposes. Free and unrestricted accessibility for the purpose of transparency ought to be the main solution for serving the interests of democracy. But that does not mean that all public information is free to exploit.

For certain types of public activities, which are run for the purpose of production of information, for example production of geographical information and maintaining systems for land information, the principles of transparency can work on the 'democracy level'. But it is also possible to combine such principles with solutions where the information and the services at the same time but for other purposes are accessible for exploitations on certain conditions.

It is important to make a difference between accessibility for transparency and accessibility for other reasons.

Geographical information is an important key-factor in many activities in the information market. Such information is often produced and controlled by public bodies. Production of geographical information is made in the interest of the public and it must cover the whole of a country. This is a part of the public commitment. Public financing is of certain importance in rural areas where the 'market' is weak.

The public as well as the private map-industry involves processes of valuations. The basic data collected "in the beginning" for map-production is put in a chain of valuation activities before it reaches a useable form.

Geographical information is special. This must be respected when the interface between the market and the public sector - 'the public sector shall be a provider of basic data for the market' - is discussed.

Question 2

Do different conditions for access to public sector information in the Member States create barriers at European level? 
If so, what elements are concerned: requirement of an interest, exemptions, time, format, quantity? 
What solutions can be envisaged?

A barrier consists of the fact that the citizen needs to use time and money just to find out what the conditions for access are. For spatial information the main obstacle is the lack of metadata, and often a lack of a clear policy on accessibility, including a clear pricing policy. To find a common policy, whatever it may be, will be a solution in itself.

But we also will submit that there exist differences between the Members states national public structures and presumptions for public bodies. The differences can be explained and defended with reference to the principle of subsidarity. Such barriers are of another nature and must be recognised as a matter of course.

Question 3

Could the establishment of European metadata (information on the information that is available) help the European citizen and business in finding their way in the public sector information throughout Europe? 
If so, how could this best be realised? 
What categories of content should directories of public sector information resources contain?

Pan-European metadata can of course be of a great value for the citizen as well as the businessman.

The realisation of such a metadata system is a huge task. A harmonised solution seems to be hard to achieve within a reasonable time.

In Sweden every agency is, in accordance with constitutional principles, obliged to register every document delivered to the agency, sent from the agency or drawn up by the agency. Every agency daybook is accessible for everyone, free of charge. The directories must contain at least information, which can be used for identification, and access of the document plus type of content.

In Sweden the document have a unique number and the content in the document is described in the daybook.

Even though there are advantages with this system, it should be stressed that it doesn't fully solve the problem of creating a useful metadatabase.

Question 4

What impact do different pricing policies have on the access to and exploitation of public sector information? 
Does this create differences in opportunities for citizens and business at European level?

Pricing must be discussed by considering the different categories of information.

We also like to rise the question: 'Price on what?' On one hand there seem to be the 'information' or the 'data' which is the objects for the price discussion. On the other hand there are grants of rights, which are in the centre of the discussion. A third type is when the price (a fee) is stipulated through constitutional means. The nature of the price in different situations (and this is valid also on the national level) makes it hard to make simple and relevant comparisons. Information is a heterogeneous 'thing'. We therefore are doubtful to the idea of only one price model.

The price can be seen as a function of the benefit the buyer will get from the purchase. In a perfect market situation the benefit will respond the 'true' market price.

Many price models in the information area, including the constitutional model for Sweden, are built on costs involved. The price shall correspond to the costs for the copy and the delivery. This model is appropriate in the case of deliveries of documents for the purpose of transparency. However, you must also respect, that the state (the taxpayer), which has made big investments in information infrastructures, such as geodata, also must have a right to achieve some cost recoveries trough pricing. This cost recovery can be, as in Sweden, achived through a user-financing based on the users benefit of the data. Not least considering problems in financing public activities, it must be seen as justified not to cover the full cost for geodata by public funding.

Question 5

To what extent and under what conditions, could activities of public sector bodies on the information market create unfair competition at European level?

As long as an actor in the market does not abuse his position, the market will not be affected in a harmful way. If the actor is the sole producer or right owner, then there are greater risks that unfair situations will appear. Public bodies are in many cases in monopolistic situations and might therefore be suspected for unfair marketing activities. On the other hand there are constitutional frameworks with the aim to hinder abuse.

Question 6

Do different copyright regimes within Europe represent barriers for the exploitation of public sector information?

The differences are of course a barrier for pan-European exploitation. Transaction costs will be higher, more negotiating, more contracts, and more details. But the barrier regarding public information is not more complex in comparison to other types of information suitable and desirable for multi-media exploitation.

A harmonised framework is desirable. The public map producers are working towards common policies in order to serve the pan-European market. A good example is the French 'company' MEGRIN, which is owned by European mapping agencies and which mission is to overbridge market failures resting on national differences regarding maps.

Question 7

Do privacy considerations deserve specific attention in relation to the exploitation of public sector information? 
In what way could commercial interests justify access to publicity held personal data?

Personal data, which in many cases are held by mapping agencies, are crucial, especially in the light of the EC Data protection directive and the national legislation resting on the Directive. The Directive do not in a good way balance the interest of the individual with the interest of society and is clearly overruled by the development of the Internet. Lantmäteriet has the opinion that the Directive ought to be reworked.

Question 8

To what extent may different Member States' liability regimes represent an obstacle to access or exploitation of public sector information?

It may create an obstacle by making public bodies less willing to give access when they are liable for damages. Also, there must be a connection between pricing and liability. If you price the information, especially on a commercial basis, it is more reasonable that you should be liable than if you give it away for free.

The transborder business will also be affected negatively in absence of a European harmonised framework.

Question 9

To what extent are the policies pursued by the EC institutions in the field of access and dissemination of information adequate? 
In what way can they further be improved?

No comment.

Question 10

Which actions should be given priority attention at European level?

Priority should be given to

  1. Starting a discussion on the overall policies and strategies of the EC and its Member States, concerning what are the purposes and the goals of disseminating public information.
  2. Making access to administrative information easy and cheap, by providing laws, regulations, court decisions and other administrative decisions, in electronic form, preferably on INTERNET.
  3. Providing a framework for how to publish metadata on other types of public information.

Yours sincerely,

Joakim Ollén 
Director general

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