Opening Europe's Data

Jonathan Gray | The Guardian | December 9, 2011

...Unfortunately the laws and policies that govern how public bodies should allow their citizenry to use the data that they (the citizenry) have paid for are often weak, woefully ambiguous, poorly understood, or poorly implemented. With a few high profile exceptions, data from European public bodies is often left gathering dust, under lock and key, or sold to those who can afford to pay for it.

The European Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive was created in order to try to change this - to unlock Europe's data and to realise its value to society. Adopted in 2003, and implemented (at least in principle) by EU Member States in 2005, the Directive has the potential to become the basis for 'open by default' information policies across Europe. But has it opened Europe's data? Not exactly - at least not yet.

While it has the potential to become a mighty hammer in the hands of open data advocates inside and outside government, critics suggest that it has been watered down. Currently it doesn't require that European public bodies actually open up their data ("This Directive does not contain an obligation to allow re-use of documents") but it does require them to have an explicit policy about how public data can be reused ("that the conditions for re-use of public sector documents are clear and publicly available"). This at least forces public bodies to have a coherent answer to the question "can I use it?", and a clear and fair set of rules that guide them to this answer...