“Data is at the core of the digital economy and an essential resource to secure the green and digital transitions.”
With these words, the European Commission opens its new EU Data Act proposal (officially the ‘proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on harmonised rules on fair access and use of data’), launched today, to reshape its data strategy and prepare for the challenges in the years to come.
Among its many objectives is to build trust in the face of the sheer volume of data generated by humans and machines on a daily basis and unlock the potential of data-driven innovation by opening opportunities for the reuse of data and removing barriers to the development of the European data economy.
The proposal deals with data sharing obligations for stakeholders, safeguards for data transfer and regulation of access by public bodies creating harmonised rules for the whole bloc.
Looking for the future
With the increasing and unstoppable interconnectedness of the world and the spread of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, the need for a Data Act and a clear set of rules on the sharing of data and information has become even more clear – from a smart fridge in someone’s kitchen to connected medical devices.
It is crucial that the EU tackle such issues to boost its economy and also to guarantee the privacy of its citizens and of business data while also paying attention to the needs of local governments, particularly when they strive to foster innovation at the local level and seek to approve and implement smart cities projects.
And when it comes to Business to Government (B2G) data sharing, cities have a lot to say on the matter.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, declared that the Data Act “will give businesses and individuals more control over the data they produce while using a connected device and more control over how their data are processed.”
According to Federica Bordelot, Senior Policy Advisor on Digital and Innovation Policies at Eurocities, however, the Data Act launched today falls short of some of its main objectives.
“Except in cases of public emergency for which it regulates a practice already in place in several cities – as it happened during the pandemic – few provisions are put in place to foster data access, use and sharing in EU cities,” said Bordelot.
Falling short of expectations
The scope of the regulation has been reduced, especially concerning the B2G data sharing pillar and except for a very clear and narrow case of emergency, data sharing is subject to a number of justifications – and also demands a lot of evidence to be provided for data to be made available. In other words, this creates an unnecessary burden for cities to justify the exceptional need for data access as well as a lack of a clear definition of what “public interest” means in this context to justify a data request.
Also, the proposal states that in case of exceptional need, including to prevent or assist the recovery from a public emergency, the data holder making the data available should be entitled to reasonable compensation that includes costs related to making the relevant data available. However, it is not clear what would be reasonable compensation and further clarification is needed on how the technical and organisational costs are to be calculated.
Also, it is not yet clear if any compensation for emergency data is on the table, that is, if the data sharing is free of cost or if is there any marginal cost involved, which would burden cities even further. It is, in the end, a matter of time and cost, as well as of clear definitions and context, issues that are still open for debate and not fully contemplated by the current proposal.
Some steps forward
On a small positive note, for the first time, public local authorities are mentioned in the definition of ‘public sector bodies’ as the result of the pressure exerted by the cities to be directly contemplated and mentioned as part of the process.
The Data Act is a starting point of a very long road.
The regulatory framework is one of the many steps we need to work on creating the conditions to properly deal with the governance of the common European data space and for fostering real data sharing in the EU.
“This includes working more on governance but also on a paradigm and cultural shift to consider the data not anymore a property of few but a public good,” explained Bordelot.