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EU building its data economy

Public consultation under way with experiments expected to be announced shortly

20 March 2017

EU Commission publishes Communication and public consultation on various data-related issues as part of continuing Digital Single Market (DSM) initiative.

In January 2017 the EU Commission published a Communication on Building a European Data Economy (SWD (2017) 2 final) and launched a wide-ranging public consultation on various data-related issues.  In parallel with the consultation, the Commission is pushing ahead with experiments in areas of obvious relevance, with the potential to use Horizon 2020 funding.  One area identified for experimentation is geo-spatial data in the context of the EU earth observation programme, Copernicus. A second is cooperative, connected and automated mobility.  At the Digital Day in Rome on 23 March, 2017 EU Member States are expected to agree to work together on cross-border mobility corridors, running tests and large scale demonstrations on data access, data liability, and connectivity and on digital technologies for connected and automated driving. 

The ongoing public consultation, which closes on 26 April, 2017, has a broader remit.  The EU Commission is seeking comments on the following topics: 

Free flow of data explores when restrictions on data location are justified and proportionate. The EU Commission advocates a guiding principle for data storage and processing of free movement of data within the EU, but recognises there may have to be some exceptions, in addition to those relating to personal data.  

Data access and transfer explores how opportunities for innovation and insights can be extracted from data generated by machines and processes.  The Commission asks how to improve access to anonymous machine-generated data and to facilitate and incentivise the sharing of data, rather than keeping and processing data in silos, while protecting investments and assets, avoiding disclosure of confidential data and minimising lock-in effects.  It offers a range of suggestions including: default contract rules; contract guidance; fostering technical solutions for reliable identification and exchange of data; rights of access for public interest and scientific purposes; right of access against remuneration (on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms - FRAND - terms); and/or a new "data producer's right (with limitations and exceptions).  The Commission states that it intends to launch a (further) evaluation of the Database Directive in 2017.  

Liability explores emerging technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), factories of the future and autonomous systems (including self-driving vehicles).  The Communication has launched a broad evaluation of the 1985 Products Liability Directive, acknowledging that it needs review in light of interdependencies between suppliers, manufacturers and other third parties, lack of certainty with respect to whether IoT devices are products, services or products that come with the sale of a service, and the autonomous nature of these technologies.  Options under consideration include: guidance on the applicability of the current legal framework to IoT and robotics; voluntary or mandatory insurance schemes; and assignment of liability to those best placed to minimise or avoid risk, or those generating the major risk.

Portability, interoperability and standards acknowledges that there are presently no obligations to guarantee data portability, even for widely-used services such as cloud hosting providers.  The Commission confirms its commitment to support appropriate standards to improve portability, interoperability and security of cloud services.  It offers possible solutions in the development of recommended contract terms to facilitate switching service providers, developing further rights to data portability, and sector-specific experiments on standards.

The EU Commission is expected to announce further initiatives and experiments following the outcome of the consultation.