Europe Set For Continent-Wide Open Data Rules

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

European vice president Neelie Kroes wants to open data to the people

The European Commission is celebrating today as the EU moved one step closer to open data  rules that would ask governments to share data archives with each  another and with any citizens that wish to use them.

The EU Council’s Committee of Member States’ Permanent Representatives endorsed a revision of the 2003 Public Sector Information Directive that would ask governments to make non-personal public sector information available for re-use.

Digital Europe © Gunnar Pippel Shutterstock 2012It would effectively give EU citizens a right to access and use such information for low sums or for free, and in formats that would allow them to use the data with ease.

Open data boom on the way?

The changes would also open up data from  libraries, museums and archives, the Commission said. They would also “encourage the availability of data in open machine-readable format”.

“Opening up public data means opening up business opportunities, creating jobs and building communities. I welcome the Council’s agreement to this culture change,” said European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes.

Such access to public sector information could pave the way for exciting applications, as seen in the UK where developers have jumped on data made available by the Coalition to create apps such as Commuter, a popular service providing live updates to those using public transport in and around London.

Indeed, the UK has been one of the more progressive countries in pushing the open data envelope. The government formally launched the Open Data Institute at the end of last year, headed up by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and even threatened organisations with legislation if they did not get more transparent with their information.

According to the Commission, Europe-wide open data would boost economic activity by tens of billions of euros per year across the EU.

The only step remaining is for formal approval from the European Parliament, which the Commission is almost certain of, saying it expects the rules to be enshrined within the “coming weeks”. A spokesperson for Kroes’ office said the “main hurdle” to overhauling the EU rules, “reluctant member states”, had been cleared.

“Some of the national governments were reluctant to support these revisions because they see the opening of data as a short-term revenue opportunity rather than as an end in itself,” the spokesperson said.

“We’ve now resolved those issues with the Commission proposals largely intact.”

The Commission has already set up a portal for European open data, which is currently in beta. The Open Data Hub of the European Union can be accessed now, but expect more datasets to appear in the coming months.

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