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

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Telefonica


I. GENERAL.

Telefónica thanks to the Commission the opportunity that, through the public consultation open with the publication of its “Green Paper on public sector information in the Information Society”, offers to express its opinion on the different questions there outlined.

Indeed, the increase of very low cost public communications networks has produced a radical change in the form in that the organisations provide their services and, therefore, in the design of the systems of information used as support.

The public sector has not remained to the margin of this phenomenon and, the same as the private sector, it is incorporating these technologies in a widespread way in the administrative relationship with citizens and companies, and also internally, since the new electronic means have changed the form in that public sector works internally and gathers all the necessary information for the execution of its functions.

This way, the public sector is becoming one of the major users of the information technologies, being the activity sector that more quantity and diversity of services provides to the citizens.

Also, it should be kept in mind that the European integration process forces to redefine a good number of administrative processes and that without the support of the new communications technologies would be very difficult and expensive to achieve an integration of the networks of Member States. This way, the use of the Information Technologies is becoming an imperative for the functioning of the public sector.

The development of technological platforms which adapt themselves to the changing legislative and normative frameworks is a growing necessity of the public sector, which should improve the quality of their services at the lowest possible costs.

For some time Telefónica, as global operator of networks and services, has made a resolved bet in favour of the development of the so called on-line Administration, and as a proof of it there are the multiple contracts signed with different public sector bodies (at local, regional or national level), by virtue of which Telefónica is offering technological platforms integrating management, communications and value added services, platforms able to support all those necessary services for the Administrations in the execution of their functions and for the sake of their objective of a user-friendly public information for the citizen.

For example, it can be mentioned the case of “InfoAdmón”, which is an application created by Telefónica for the public sector and which constitutes an open and modulate platform of solutions and services integrating Information Technologies and Communications. It is focused on the definition and development of applications and services for the communication between Administrations and citizens and companies.

“InfoAdmón” makes possible that local public sector bodies (those which because of their nature are closer to the citizen) be able to offer new services to the citizens and the companies of their territory. By means of a public key and a private key the citizen can have access to the services of his City Council for instance, and the existence of these two keys guarantee data confidentiality and transmission security.

“Ventanilla Única” is another project between Telefónica and Public Sector, in this case at national and regional level. Telefónica tendered for the development of this Project and it is the Ministry of “Administraciones Públicas” which coordinates it, between the Central Administration and the Autonomous Communities.

Telefónica is preparing a project to create a great Intranet of the Public Sector (at central, regional and local level). The creation of this Intranet will suppose the modernisation of the administrative management and it consists of a project of setting administrative communications standars, which will allow the interconnection of all Public Registers (at central and regional level).

With the interconnection of “InfoAdmón” and “Ventanilla Única” the citizen will be able to have access to any Public Registers, a kind of unique Register of the whole Public Sector.

II. COMMENTS TO THE QUESTIONS.

1.- Which definition of public sector is the most appropriate in your view?

In order to define “public sector”, and therefore also of “public sector information”, we should keep in mind several criteria, given its complexity.

The public sector should include:

  • local and central public sector bodies that administer and finance a group of activities, mainly of non commercial nature oriented to the welfare of the community,
  • those public institutions who are mainly financed by public funds,
  • always when their activities are limited and subject to the public normative (it is necessary to accomplish this condition to accentuate the difference with public sector activities, developed directly or through participated entities, which are subjected to the private law).

Those organisations total or partially owned by the public sector and acting under the general rules of the market will be considered as belonging to the private sector.

When determining the concept of “public sector information” several categories should be set up, even with different protection and access degrees, depending if it affects to general interests or, within these, affecting to a reduced group of third interested.

1.1.- What categories of public sector information should be used in the debate?

Public sector for their nature, dimensions and scope of its activities represents the major unique resource of content of information. Within public sector information, several categories of information should be distinguished:

  • stable information, information not subject to change (population, tourist information…)
  • updated information on the Web, data subject to dynamic change,
  • synchronized information (different administrative procedures)
  • on-line information (services like rent of sport hints, tickets of shows…)

2.- Do different conditions for access to public sector information in the Member States create barriers at European level?

The Member States have different norms and practices in relation to the right of access (in any case limited, never unlimited) to public sector information. In spite of these differences and precisely keeping them in mind, it would be necessary that the States elaborate and publish Guidelines defining the conditions of publication, use and exploitation of public sector data and information.

These more specific national guidelines or even at inferior levels (regional or local), developed in collaboration with concerned organisms would be necessary to identify the different access conditions to the existent public information in the Member States.

In any case it is fundamental the harmonisation or uniformity of concepts that allow to act, at the European level, since a homogeneous situation.

For that reason is necessary that a balance is given among the development, in the different levels of Public Sector (local, regional, central, etc.), of the access to public sector information and the existence of situations that can produce discrimination, as a consequence of this diversity.

The establishment of a homogeneous framework at European level would be hindered, if at lower levels (local, regional or national) are set up different access conditions.

In order to achieve that homogeneity at European level, the Commission should ensure that (without prejudice to national rules nor to the role of any public body in Member States and according to the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality) the actions taken as follow-up of this Green Paper will be addressed to the disappearance of barriers among Member States and at lower level.

3.- Could the establishment of European meta-data (information on the information that is available) help the European citizens and businesses in finding their way in the public sector information throughout Europe?

3.1.- If so, how could this best be realised?

3.2.- What categories of content should directories of public sector information resources contain?

The existence of unique, universal databases is an utopia (that has been shown impracticable). At the moment multiple updated databases exist and are easily accessible at national and European level, then it is preferable to work with them and to facilitate their interconnection, as a way to maximise their effectiveness, without necessity of creating new databases.

However, the creation of big Directories or meta-data at European level or lower levels, for example, national, could be very interesting, to help the “information clients” in finding their way in this mass of fragmented and dispersed data.

For the sake of a improved efficiency it would be also necessary the harmonisation of procedures of treatment of the information of the public sector, as well as the access methods, by means of the creation of a kind of an exclusive European browser of public sector information. With user-friendly and harmonised search mechanisms at European level, the management of these data would be the same in all the Member States. If so, we will be facilitating the achievement of one of the basic principles of the European construction: the free circulation of people and information services in Europe.

Databases and public sector information in general should be up dated regularly. Homogeneous methods of up-dating should be established, specifying when was the last time that information was updated and when it will be next time updated.

We should point out the example of the American Administration that has just created a page WEB that gathers 3,8 millions of individual addresses or sites of the USA Administration. This new service allows to find, easily and quickly, information on the American Public Sector, without wasting time, facilitating and encouraging in this way the access to public information.

4.- What impact do different pricing policies have on the access to and exploitation of public sector information?

In the development of their administrative tasks and functions public sector bodies systematically collect data and information from citizens, companies, etc. This information has commercial value beyond its mere use by the public sector, so its affordability and more easy access would be beneficial as much for the public sector as for the private sector.

Pricing policies depend on the nature of the information to which they applied. The establishment of a price to public sector information should reflect the collecting, managing and treatment costs of that information, although not necessarily should include the total of those costs. The price should lower or for free if that information is affected with a public interest.

If we consider the American example again, the new service to access electronically to public sector information is not free, but it has been fixed a price of $30 monthly or $15 for one day. Also, in certain occasions, these rates won't be enough, but rather the users will also pay a price fixed by the Administration for some of the documents offered in its page WEB.

All the information that can be found in these pages was already available in the Net, but it was difficult to find it because it was fragmented and dispersed. What the user pays is the added value of simplification of searching of a given information. The user who doesn't want to pay these rates, will always be able to continue having access to each individual page, which this service has unified, and without paying any rate.

A price to access to certain information can be useful to cover collecting, managing and storage costs of that information, but mainly, to avoid that a free access gives place to an excessive demand of data and public information for an inappropriate use.

In any case a pricing policy should not preclude the access. Affordability criteria should apply, in order not to render a price excessive.

4.1.- Does this create differences in opportunities for citizens and businesses at European level?

Here it should apply the general principle of not establishing unnecessary barriers for the transmission of information between Member States.

Taking into account the fundamental principles that inspired the Treaty of Rome, the providers of electronic information services should be treated under similar conditions independently of their country of origin within the European Union.

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

Those contracts or agreements between public sector and databases providers from the private sector should not establish exclusive rights, if it produces a distortion of competition. An exclusive right can be judged necessary if it is to facilitate the access to a new market or if it consist of the provision of a public interest service, in that case, this exclusive right will be subject to periodic revision.

When public sector provides electronic information services directly, it should be avoided that this fact doesn’t produce a distortion of competition. Before establishing new electronic services or going on providing already existing services, public sector bodies should consider if the private industry can adapt better to the necessities of that service, then public sector bodies should only complement the performance of the private agents.

In Spain, there exist cases where the Regional Public Authorities are developing their own networks (for example, in Navarra) and other cases in which public sector has already opted for the use of the already existing networks of the telecommunications operator (Community of Madrid), there also exist examples in which we find a combination of public investments in their own networks and use of existing networks.

The direct or indirect financial support of the public sector should favour the research and development, as well as encourage the emergency of new sectors, always respecting the general EU competition rules on State aid (Art. 92 of the Treaty of Rome).

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

Apart from those works of comments, studies, reports, etc. on legislation or norms, public sector should exclude texts of legislative and administrative nature, as well as official translations of their inclusion in copyright regimes, since they are in fact public.

7.- Do privacy considerations deserve specific attention in relation to the exploitation of public sector information?

7.1.- In what way could commercial interests justify access to publicly held personal data?

Data of personal nature should be strictly protected, at any time, since they are dealing with conditions, circumstances and elements of personal character.

The different public sector bodies (national, regional, local…) should allow that compilations of information that they elaborate and use, be also accessible and used by private sector through the electronic information services, whenever the access to that information doesn't imply restrictions to the protection of public interests and legitimate private interests (privacy, confidentiality…)

Among the information to which access should be restricted is that information related to national and public security, matters sub iudice, personal data, protection of individual’s right to privacy, commercial and industrial confidentiality…

Although as a general principle the access to public sector information should be free, and, therefore, its restriction requires to be motivated, in the field of personal data and privacy, the burden of the proof is inverted, since the protection is the general rule and the access to the information constitutes the exception, which will be motivated.

There exist public activity sectors regarding which, the access is subject to the condition of being third interested in the procedures or files of reference, as it is the case of the Administration of Justice. This protection will be maintained.

8.- To what extent may the different Member States’ liability regimes represent an obstacle to access or exploitation of public information?

There are several concepts and situations involved in the question, it is necessary to distinguish between:

a)issues concerning the public sector: in this case the issue is to regulate on what grounds there should be free access to information which is going to be commercialised.

It is necessary to eliminate the barriers existing between the different countries for that access. It would be necessary to establish several levels of access and several according levels of information protection.

For instance, the information which has a high freedom level for access could be subject to an administrative regime of sanctions about fraudulent use or abuse.

b)privacy related issues: the protection of non-public information requires a system for liability and sanctions with higher guarantees. It should be more than the administrative procedures, and in the scope of criminal law. This involves: the civil servant who allows access to that information, the access to the information and its use for different purposes than those alleged for getting it.

On these grounds, it is necessary to distinguish between inappropriate use of public information and non-public information.

The first case should be subject to administrative procedures and the second case to criminal law, with a specific treatment.

Public sector should clear unjustified legal obstacles for the use by private sector of public information, and to its exploitation by the information industry. This should be subject to guarantees for confidentiality, and civil and criminal liability.

9.- To what extent are the policies pursued by the EU institutions in the field of access and dissemination of information adequate?

9.1.- In what way can they improve?

The European Union is undertaking an important effort of collecting, processing and disseminating information about the different Community activities and policies, about the work of the institutions, and developing policies aimed at improving access to that information.

Following this trend, and taking into account that an easy access to the European Union public information will pave the way to European integration for citizens and companies, it is vital that Community institutions reinforce all those actions which facilitate access, and make information closer and more transparent.

10.- What actions should receive a special attention at EU level?

European institutions should specially promote policies for diffusion of European public sector information.

The right of access to Community institutions documents must be protected; in order to guarantee transparency and fulfil the principles laid down in the Treaty of Amsterdam.

The new information technologies facilitate access to information and communication between public administrations and communication between these Administrations and citizens and companies. It is a unique opportunity for Europe.

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