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Multi-Cultural Resource Centre

28 May 1999

The Multi-Cultural Resource Centre welcomes the European Commission's green paper, Public Sector Information: A Key Resource for Europe. As a non-governmental organisation that works primarily with minority ethnic groups,we agree that integration is crucial to the maintenance of the European Union and that information is the key to making integration possible. Not only will companies benefit, but voluntary organisations such as Multi-Cultural Resource Centre could also use more information to serve our interests, and our clients, better.

Question 1. Which definition of public sector is the most appropriate in your view? What categories of public sector information should be used in the debate?

We believe that the functional approach is the most appropriate. We would hope that this definition extends, in a way the other definitions do not, to private organisations whose services are provided to the public sector. This would mark the most comprehensive and accurate definition, as it would be able to differentiate between private services and tasks taken on by the government.

In regards to categories of public sector information, we feel that transparency is essential. If information released is general, we feel that people should be informed as to how to gain more specific access at a later stage. In that way, only parties who are quite interested will apply for more information and perceived violation of confidentiality is less likely (in terms of people's willingness to give information to public sector bodies.)

Question 2. Do different conditions for access to public sector information in the Member Sates create barriers at European level? If so, what elements are concerned: requirement of an interest, exemptions, time, format, quantity?

Yes, we do feel that different conditions can create barriers, particularly as some legislation is much more developed than others are. In regards to quantity and format, stating that data may be `unattractive' does not seem to warrant withholding information, as there may be a danger of not allowing fair access. Access to intermediate data may be a viable solution as well as making comparisons between data easier and more efficient.

Question 3. Could the establishment of European meta-data help the European citizens and businesses 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?

Meta-data could be helpful as long as people know how to access it. An ed website linked to the European Commission could be a good place to start. If information could be accessed through computers and libraries and `information kiosks', like in Dublin, more people would be able to access such data. Translating summaries of some documents into minority languages (such as Chinese, Somali, Urdu, etc.) could greatly increase access and improve accurate information gathering.

Concerning categories of directories, MCRC would benefit from some overall and some specialised categories. We would be particularly interesting in immigration, patterns of migration, employment, social, economic and educational data. Data should be in such a form that it could be analysed and assessed by ethnic group, nationality and current residency. We would also be interested in accessing working documents currently in production by the European Commission. This would give NGOs more time to formulate ideas for response and consultation. Moreover, it could allow for more dialogue between organisations and the European Commission.

Directory categories should reflect some of the concerns of the European Union, such as Social Exclusion and Equality. Bodies such as Multi-Cultural Resource Centre can use this data to influence policy-making both at regional level within Northern Ireland and at European level.

Question 4. What bearing do differing pricing policies have on the access to and exploitation of public information? Does this create difference in opportunities for citizens and businesses at European level?

Pricing policies may impact access as groups or individuals without great resources may be reluctant or unable to afford huge costs. Groups and individuals who are already marginalised may become more so. One solution is to make basic data free and state clearly how much additional information costs. However, with e-commerce, it may be difficult for those people without credit cards to pay. Therefore, a paper system should also be maintained and administrated.

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 publicly held personal data?

Privacy considerations are paramount to collecting and maintaining data. In the long term, people may refuse to give information if there is a chance that privacy will not be respected. The most vulnerable members of society may already be reluctant to release personal information. The fear of violation of privacy could lead to additional alienation, inaccurate information and a decline in services provided.

The public sector could justify access to personal data (in a confidential manner) in terms of areas like health, where the information could be used to improve or implement services. European meta-data could be useful in comparing information and ideas from other Member States in a clear fashion.

Question 10. Which actions should be given priority attention at European level?

Awareness should be a priority, followed by training. Information is only useful if people know how to access it and how it can help them. Training is the logical consequence and the best way to ensure that information is taken up efficiently and on a widespread basis.

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Belfast BT7 1NT 
Tel: (01232)244639 Fax: (01232)329581 


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