Public hearing on the PSI directive

Written by Astrid Van Hecke on 22 January 2018 in EU Monitoring
EU Monitoring

On January 19 2018, DG CNECT organised a public hearing regarding the review of the public sector information directive.

Several representatives from various sectors took the floor. While most participants agreed that data creates added value and is crucial in today’s economy, some cautioned against opening up all data as some data is sensitive or has security implications. Others argued that the private sector should not gain access to all public-sector information. Please find below a summary of the debate.

Yvo Volman, Head of Unit, Data Policy and Innovation Unit, DG CNECT, explained that the midterm review of the Digital Single Market Strategy indicated that there will be an initiative on public sector information. It is part of a broader package of work the Commission is doing on the data economy. The Commission is going to continue its work on B2B data sharing, launched last year, and will further explore the issue of access to privately held data by public sector. He pointed out that the 2012 recommendation on accessibility and preservation of scientific information already existed. The PSI directive was reviewed in 2013 and over time it has turned from a competition instrument into a real open data instrument. The Commission is expected to evaluate by July 2018 how the directive works and to come up with proposals for change where relevant. He explained that they launched the process to see if it is necessary to change the directive and this hearing is part of this process. He also pointed out that an online consultation was open until mid-December. The Commission is also doing a support study, a very intensive work that is being done by Deloitte and others. They also organised workshops and engaged with Member States.

Data held by entities providing Services of General Interest

Thomas Avanzata, UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics) explained they represent short distance transport. They recognise the benefits of an open data policy and the potential for economic growth. Transport is becoming a data driven business. Sharing data can stimulate innovation in the market. However, if the business know-how is not properly protected, then it can lead to distortions and disadvantages. The public transport sector is organised according to the guiding principles and rules of the 2008 public service obligations regulation. The philosophy behind the regulation seeks to encourage competition for the market. It is key therefore that competition in the transport sector be as fair and efficient as possible. Data has value, it generates added value and it can shape the type of services offered to passengers. If the Commission wishes to have best access for citizens, then transport data has value. Who are the primary beneficiaries of an extension of the PSI directive, he asked? There is already legislation in place which allows the re-using of transport information data. He said that they would like the Commission to clarify the benefits it seeks by extending the scope. The Commission should recognise that data is a broad concept and public transport data has its own characteristics. Therefore, the sector would like to have a sector specific approach.

Francois-Xavier Perin, UTP (Union des Transports Publics) said they represent all French urban transport operators and railway undertakings. With the transport authorities, their clients, they are committed to improving quality. There is no question that their communities will need more public transport in the future. They are convinced that a proactive approach to open data and partnership with other competitive authorities can provide more sustainable, citizen-friendly mobility. They have three areas of concern. First, not all data should be open. He explained that they work in a very competitive environment, with operators and mobility providers for instance. Intellectual property right and know-how are key and must be protected while other data can be open without trouble. Opening all data without protection is very dangerous. More work and assessment with DG COMP and DG MOVE needs to take place so as to identify which data must be opened and which not. Most of the world leaders in transport are European while those in data processors are not. Public transport is a usual target of terrorism and open data must not blindly arm killers. Second, the value. They are convinced that there is added value for economies and citizens in sharing open data. Producing data has a cost but also value.  UTP insists that the choice of licence must remain free. The principle of reciprocity through share-alike licenses must be promoted. Third, process. Public transport is already an open data regulated sector. French public transport authorities are working on the implementation of a national set of obligations regarding opening data in the Lemaire law. An unbinding initiative such guidelines would be more adapted to an ever-changing topic like data.

A representative of ALLRAIL stated that they all hope for a level playing field. They deliver customer orientated rail growth. The lack of access to data is one of the major hurdles to achieve a competitive and open passenger market. In many Member States there are national infrastructure managers and one engages in digital protectionism. He referred to infrastructure data, real-time information, tickets, fares, payments systems, stations etc. He argued that selective blocking of access to data means that the most optimal use cannot be achieved. Independent ticket venders cannot offer any form of comparison between different operators for instance. At EU level they welcome a robust PSI directive that creates a fair and non-discriminatory environment.

Annika Stienen, VDV (Verband Deutscher Verkehrsunternehmen – German Transport Association) said that the Commission should try to have a policy coherence in the different initiatives. She referred to the ITS directive and the delegated regulation on multimodal travel information which was published in May 2017 and which is not implemented yet. It is an initiative that aims at opening up some of the data. She said that they will only see after 2019 how it works. This regulation requires all actors to open certain data. It does not ask them to open sensitive data but data that has the highest value for passengers. The sharing of data is based on license agreements and, similar to the PSI directive, there is the possibility to be compensated for the cost. She recommended to look at this regulation and take it as an inspiration for the sector. As for reciprocity, it is included in the ITS directive. Public and private should open their data if they work on the same. Data plays a crucial role for each company, it offers the possibility to improve one’s services and it holds value. Imagine if only public transport has to open its data and private competitors get it for free. A large share of the public sector’s income comes from private sources such as tickets. She said to be mindful of each sector. Many public transport companies are open to open data sets. They do it even without a legal obligation.

Elisa Schenner, Wiener Stadtwerke Group, explained that they are an infrastructure provider for transport and energy in Vienna and added that they would be highly affected by a revision of the directive. They support the Commission’s aim to use existing data but they do not agree with some of the assumptions. According to DG CNECT, there is a problem with the economy because data is not used in the most effective way and consequently they just want us to open up all public data. Moreover, it implies that the data has not been used in a good way, that the sector approach of the Commission has not been successful and that a horizontal approach is needed. She challenged this reasoning. In order to create a good economy, it is important to create a level playing field between private and public actors and not just provide public data to the private sector. It is important to give the tax payer something back but this does not mean one should give it for free to USA companies that often do not pay taxes in the EU. She said that they want to do some long-term investments in the future and support and work together with local developers and local companies. They have been working with their data for a long time. She explained that they have an app where they try to help their customers to get better services, real-time information. They also want to improve multimodality and therefore they included more and more different modes of transport. They use their data to achieve the city goals of Vienna. She doubts that there are many private companies that also want to do that. Vienna has an open data government where public utility are actively providing and static data. It is important that clear rules apply and they do not want to open all their data as some are sensitive. They are a critical infrastructure so it is important to make the link between the NIS directive and critical infrastructure. They need European support but not additional administrative burden. They need a fair level playing field, support for the local level to be innovative, a sectoral approach and exemptions for critical infrastructure and data.

Dieter Staat, Dutch Water Companies (Vewin) explained he represents the entire Dutch drinking water sector. The water companies are publicly owned end companies. They share a lot of information and work together to optimise their operations and services. The widening of the scope would eventually mean that these companies would also fall under the PSI directive in the future. They have various reasons why they prefer to avoid this. He pointed out that they already apply different Dutch laws that make them to be more transparent and provide data on demand. He stated that it is the national government that must determine what information needs to be open and not. It is a subsidiarity question. They exchange information among themselves, other critical infrastructures, national authorities and the cyber security centre. It is important that companies can continue to trust on the fact that this information will never become available to third parties. The sharing of public information can allow benefits but this is not always the case especially when security and public health are at stake. They offer safe and affordable water and they would like to keep it that way.

Yvo Volman briefly pointed out that the Commission will not react to the comments made during the hearing. However, they are happy to react at a later stage.

Johannes Imminger, CEEP (European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and SGIs), pointed out the need to support ongoing innovation, ensure high quality service in the future and a level playing field between all. Many providers of public services already publish data, provide innovative services. Giving this innovation done by public service providers, they suggest it should remain a company decision whether or not to share data with third parties. He also added that public service providers should not be forced to give out value for free. He underlined that not all the funding stems from the public sector. Security reasons play a crucial role when assessing what data is to be made public. They think that Member States must retain the right to decide what data can be assessed, they are better placed to determine what data must be available and what not. Furthermore, regarding the playing field between all market participants, the sharing data has a cost for public service providers as they need to do an additional investment. Regarding share alike licensing, there should be a possibility to set the rules of the re-use of their own data.

Robbie Morrison, Open Energy System Modelling Community, explained that they build numerical models for future energy systems for Europe, how they may behave etc. They can access public data but cannot use it as data published on a website is insufficient for their purpose. If the information is not available, crowdsourcing is filling the vacuum. Energy system data is being crowdsourced a lot by street maps etc. As for security concerns, the information will be available in some form or other and dealing with it sensible is what is needed. He pointed out that their community is highly relied on privately held data of public interest. They started to build a data downstream system. He said that they are desperate to use the information. In terms of the threshold for copyright ability, he said that a lot of the data provided on transparency does not meet the threshold for copyright ability. It should be under the public domain dedication. The data processing, they obtain without open license is not lawful. Similarly, source code downloaded without a license or public domain dedication cannot be used. Experts have a deficit of trust with the public and one way is using genuinely open data. Publishing data without an open license is not open data, he concluded.

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About the author

Astrid is a Senior Monitoring Consultant at Dods EU Monitoring.

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