On 23 February, the European Commission launched its EU Data Act proposal to reshape the EU’s data strategy and prepare the bloc for the changes in the years to come.
With a focus on Business-to-business (B2B) and Business-to-Government (B2G) data-sharing, the Data Act brings some good news and more clarity on processes. It aims to harmonise rules on fair access and use, as well as prepare the bloc for a new era of digital economy and green transition.
Other matters have been contemplated by the proposal, such as interoperability requirements for data use between sectors or by products or services and its sharing with third parties – for cities to have access to the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, for example.
With the growing volume of information generated by humans and machines every day, there’s a pressing need for guidelines to make life easier for governments and companies alike. Also, facilitate the exchange of data while reassuring its security and privacy.
Cities must be part of the decision process, as they are not only important actors but also have specific needs and uses of information for the services they provide to the population.
Access to data
With enough time to analyse in-depth the proposal, we asked some cities that are part of the Eurocities’ Knowledge Society Forum for their opinion on the Data Act. What possible criticisms, positive points and other comments can be made.
Juhana Vartainen, Mayor of Helsinki, notes that “the Data Act holds great promise for empowering data ecosystem participants like people and SMEs to create new and added value from the re-use of data.”
The city of Cologne has also welcomed the EU proposal of the Data Act “as it recognizes that data and the regulated sharing of data offers a foundation to our modern digital society. The City of Cologne also welcomes the infrastructural conditions that are addressed and defined in the data act,” explained Sabine Möwes, Director of the Department for Digitalization of the City of Cologne
The City of Barcelona stressed the importance of data for Europe’s strategic autonomy. Deputy Mayor Laia Bonet noted that “when it comes to innovation, competitiveness, industrialisation, building trust in public institutions, data is at the core of it all. The Commission is right when proposing Data Spaces for different stakeholders to exchange data in a constructive and non-financialized spirit.”
The Business-to-Business and Business-to-government challenge
However, Bonet notes that “for years, the dominant approach has been that public administrations need to open up their data so that private companies can use it for their own purposes. This needs to change. Cities need Data Spaces that also allow for solid data-sharing from Businesses to Governments that enhance democratic policy-making.”
Rennes has also welcomed the proposal. The city published a position paper on the Act requesting a fair data economy that ensures access to and uses, including in business-to-business and business-to-government situations.
“B2G data sharing is an important theme for Rennes Métropole because it is linked to various actions, including the Rennes Urban Data Interface (UIA RUDI) project. The sharing of B2G data promotes the improvement of knowledge of the territory and is based on relationships of trust with private actors and the definition of governance that materializes them,” reads the position paper.
Through RUDI, supported by the European program Urban Innovative Action (UIA), Rennes’ citizens will recover control over their personal information while improving the efficiency of local enterprises.
Despite notable advances, cities are still concerned.
The Data Act in itself recognises the “legal uncertainty and barriers, commercial incentives, and a lack of appropriate infrastructure were amongst the main factors impeding business-to-government data sharing identified by respondents.” It also attempts to address major issues in chapter 5 through a series of obligations and exceptions for uses of data and specific requirements for a request for data to be made available.
“For the public sector itself, the access to data is only provided for exceptional cases. However, this leaves a certain vagueness in the use of data for the public interest,” explains Möwes. She adds that municipalities provide services of general interest and are eager to improve in terms of efficiency and overall city management.
“By clearly positioning data use by municipalities in terms of the public interest, challenges within the B2G interaction could be mitigated. In particular, the potential to align the reality of the life of citizens and the public sector would be strengthened. This aspect is not sufficiently considered in the present draft.”
To Cologne, the more data from citizens the city governments have the more they understand their needs and are able to act (through services development) by bringing citizens and public administrations closer.
Cloud switching and the future of interoperability
But other aspects of the Data Act were well received by cities.
On cloud switching, Cologne says: “The possibility of switching between data processing [cloud] providers not only strengthen the market but also facilitates and simplifies the process of reacting to comprehensive future regulations.”
Möwes also adds that “cloud infrastructure will be selectable in a much more differentiated way according to specific use cases, which may also scale over time in terms of value proposition.”
In fostering the development of interoperability, cities agree on the good measured proposed.
Helsinki’s mayor says that her city is “particularly motivated to support the Commission’s promotion of interoperability between sectors as we seek to provide human-centric, holistic, and cross-sectoral digital services for our residents and visitors, people and businesses.”
To conclude, the proposal is a good starting point to foster better access, sharing and use of data. However, cities call for a wider scope for the B2G data sharing that includes a wide set of categories of private data that should be shared with the public authorities in a timely and constant matter for the public interest.
And, as previously stressed, local governments need a clear and commonly agreed EU definition of public interest, that address needs and specificities of cities.
Eurocities will continue to monitor the next steps of the Data Act, ensuring that the voice of municipal governments is heard in the process. Eurocities will advocate for measures that facilitate the secure and timely exchange of information between the different actors involved, be they companies or government bodies to guarantee the privacy and rights of citizens.