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Open data gains momentum in Italy (and the European Union)

The Public Sector Information Directives

26 September 2019

The European Union recently adopted the third version of the directive on Public Sector Information (Directive (EU) 2019/1024)) which aims to promote the use of 'Open Data'. Italy is increasingly being recognised for its commitment to digitalisation in the public sector, and in 2018 obtained an important recognition as a leading "trendsetter" in Europe for Open Data. In this article we look at Italy's implementation of the new directive and the role Open Data can play in furthering the digital economy.

Public Sector Information

Since the beginning of the millennium there has been great attention across Europe around data and information deriving from public bodies. When data serves as a raw material to be re-used by private (and commercial) players for the supply of new goods and the provision of new services, this is referred to as Public Sector Information (PSI). This is defined as "information collected, produced, reproduced and disseminated within the exercise of a public task or a service of general interest".

Efforts at the European level have been devoted primarily to making PSI accessible to everyone with a legitimate interest. (Notably, commercial use does qualify as a legitimate interest.) The goal initially was, and still is, to increase the amount of Open Data available to the public by: -

  • promoting "data in an open format that can be freely used, re-used and shared by anyone for any purpose" and
  • adopting polices which "encourage the wide availability and re-use of public sector information for private or commercial purposes, with minimal or no legal, technical or financial constraints and promote the circulation of information not only for economic operators but primarily for the public".

All of the previous quotes are from the most recent PSI Directive (the Open Data Directive ((EU) 2019/1024), adopted on 20 June 2019 which recasts the previous directives on PSI. Member States have until 17 July 2021 to implement the directive.

The Public Sector Information (PSI) Directives

PSI 1

Directive (EC) 2003/98 (PSI I) was the first legislative instrument adopted at the European level to establish a set of minimum rules governing the re-use and the practical arrangements for facilitating re-use of existing documents held by public sector bodies. The PSI I harmonised some fundamental principles (such as "re-use for commercial or non-commercial purposes" and "transparency") and definitions (such as what constitutes a "document"). This has encouraged the adoption of standard licenses on non-discriminatory bases for everyone requesting access to PSI.

PSI 2

PSI I was then amended by the Directive (EU) 2013/37 (PSI II), which widened the existing scope by including data and information gathered from museums, libraries and archives. PSI II also encouraged translation, to the extent possible, of the information in machine-readable format. In addition, the directive stated that as a key principle: Access and Re-use of PSI is to all effects a right and therefore is not something which should be left to the discretion of the public entities holding the requested PSI. While Member States were free to set the conditions to give access to PSI (provided that these were transparent), the ability to charge compensation for the access was limited to only covering marginal costs.

PSI 3

The 'Open Data' Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/1024) (PSI III) relies upon the fundamental principle that over the past few years, "the amount of data in the world, including public data, has increased exponentially and new types of data are being generated and collected. In parallel, there is a continuous evolution in technologies for analysis, exploitation and processing of data". For that reason the PSI III extends the scope of the PSI Directives even to:

  • public undertakings acting as public service operators (e.g. water supply, energy, transportation, mail services etc.), which can provide very valuable and strategic datasets;
  • research data deriving from publicly funded project or entities;
  • dynamic data, i.e. data generated by sensors and any other data subject to frequent or real-time updates characterised by their volatility and rapid obsolescence. Dynamic data should be made available for re-use immediately after collection by Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) or bulk download.
The transposition of the PSI Directives in Italy and Open Data

Initially, Italy was flagged by the European Commission for having incorrectly and only partially implemented PSI I. However, in recent years has Italy committed itself to fostering Open Data awareness and has become a leading jurisdiction in promoting Open Data.

Many efforts have been addressed in digitalising public sector bodies and setting the legal conditions to ensure effective open access to PSI. As a result, there are now numerous available datasets which have reached impressive size and the policies adopted reveal a exploitation-oriented approach.

Italy's developments in Open Data are shown by the annual reports on Open Data Maturity in Europe, released by the European Data Portal. In only three years, Italy improved its ranking from 13th (in 2015) to 4th (in 2018) place among all European Countries and has been awarded a designation as a leading "trendsetter" in Europe for Open Data.

Despite the recognised maturity of Italy in this matter, further steps can be made to spread the potential of Open Data, especially regarding general awareness of the commercial opportunities given by PSI and Open Data. Best practices and good examples of successful exploitation are still very few or, at least, unknown. Furthermore, legal adjustments are necessary. In particular, codifying the various laws and regulations on this matter into a unified source of law and clarifying the boundaries and interplay between the three main pillars of Open Data

  • transparency
  • re-use for economic exploitation
  • protection of personal data and confidential information) would aid jurisdictions, such as Italy, to make further developments in Open Data.

The incoming transposition of the PSI III could be the occasion to address these issues and continue the path towards an Open Data economy.

KEY TAKE-AWAY POINTS
  • On 20 June 2019 the European Union adopted Directive (EU) 2019/1024 on access and re-use of Public Sector Information (PSI III).
  • The PSI III recasts the Directive(EC) 2003/98, already revised by the Directive (EU) 2013/37.
  • Member States have until 17 July 2021 to transpose the PSI III.
  • Italy was noted by the EU Commission in 2009 for incomplete transposition of the PSI I however it is now among the leading countries in promoting Open Data.
  • In 2018, Italy was ranked in 4th place in Europe for Open Data Maturity and has been awarded a designation as a leading "trendsetter" in Europe for Open Data.