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13 December 2011, 14:55

European Commission counting on open data

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On Monday, EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes outlined the EU's Open Data Strategy. This includes setting up a European Commission open data portal and working to persuade the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to set up similar platforms. The Commission's information platform will be available to the public within the first half of 2012, explained the Dutch Commissioner, stating that, "We are practicing what we preach". The Commission also intends to propose open data rules for all member states.

The change is to be achieved by amending a 2003 EU directive on the re-use of public sector information. All documents made accessible by public sector organisations should, in principle, be able to be re-used for any purpose, unless protected by third party copyright. Kroes is aiming to enforce the principle that fees charged by public sector organisations for such information should not exceed the actual costs involved in fulfilling a specific request. According to the Commissioner, this should in practice mean that most data "will be offered for free or virtually for free."

Kroes plans to introduce a duty for public sector organisations to provide information in "commonly-used, machine-readable formats" and to set up regulatory oversight of this duty. The directive is also to be extended to cover libraries, museums and archives, though Kroes admits that cultural works are unlikely to be able to be made available free of charge.

The Digital Agenda Commissioner believes that the open data approach can create growth of around 40 billion Euros per year and hundreds of thousands of extra jobs. Kroes spoke of a historic revolution creating huge opportunities for business, journalists, researchers and citizens to generate new content and applications. She cited OpenSpending, which provides users with information on public spending and debt, and Wheelmap, which shows wheelchair accessible locations, as examples of what can be achieved.

She also had some words of advice for future developers, "We trust you will do good things with this data – data you already paid for." Users are, reckons Kroes, creative, giving rise to added value. She called on public sector organisations not to wait for the amended directive, which still requires approval from the Council and MEPs, to become law, imploring them to, "Start releasing your data now." In Germany, some federal states, such as BerlinGerman language link, have already set up open data portals. The German national government is also setting up an open data portal, but it is not set to come online before 2013.

(Stefan Krempl / crve)

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