Access to and Ownership of Public Sector Information

International Symposium

December 7th, 2001, Vienna, Austrian Academy of Sciences

This symposium is a contribution to the scientific discussion of social, political, legal and economic aspects of access to public sector information and its digitisation.

The public sector is the biggest single producer and owner of a large variety and vast amount of information, reaching from administrative and government information to a diversity of non-administrative contents: e.g. legal and regulatory norms, political information, statistical, financial, and economic data, public registers, geographic, meteorological and environmental data bases as well as scientific, technical, medical and cultural information.

This information is important for several stakeholders: for citizens and civic organizations, for private businesses and for different agencies within the public sector. In particular, it is an essential resource for the creation of value-added information products and services by the information industry. Advanced information and communication technologies (ICT) play a key role in facilitating access and constitute integral components of “e-government” and “open government” as public sector reform projects. Access to public sector information has therefore become a key issue of public policy and is stimulating the discussion and design of public sector information and IT policies. The discussion on EU level has resulted in a ‘Green Paper on Public Sector Information in the Information Society’.

Among the many topics around the design of public information policies, the questions of which public information should be accessible, to what extent and under which conditions, are of central importance. The symposium will address among others the following issues:

  • Which rights do/should citizens and businesses have regarding access to public sector information?
  • How should different aspects of access to public sector information be taken into account in the design of policies? (technical: e.g. infrastructure requirements; social: e.g. democratic rights, privacy; economic: e.g. costs and benefits; access for different user groups: e.g. citizens and businesses as end-users vs. information industry as intermediaries or producers of added value)
  • How to distinguish basic information and commercial information products/services based on public sector information? (incl. revised universal service concept)
  • How far do national information policies and current regulations differ among countries? (especially EU-legislation, i.e. results of the green paper consultation process and member states)
  • How can different approaches in the provision of electronic government services be balanced? (citizen vs. business-oriented approaches; supply vs. demand-oriented approaches)
  • Which issues arise from currently available information products based on public sector data? (different forms of provision, e.g. government vs. private sector; different models, e.g. exclusive license, competitive products).

The symposium language will be English.

The symposium is organised by the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA), Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, and co-funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Labour (BMwA) and COST Action A14 “Government and Democracy in the Information Age”. Kind support in programme planning was provided by Gerhard Wagner, Association of the Information Industry in Austria (VIW), Vienna, and Rudolf Lichtmannegger, Austrian Chamber of Commerce (WKÖ), Vienna.


PRESENTATIONS:


Digitisation and digital rights management: experiences at ORF (Paper)
Peter DUSEK and Martin SZERENCSI, Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF (A)
Public access to audiovisual archives is particularly difficult. There are still a great deal of technical problems (i.e. network resp. storage capacities) but the real main problem is the abundance of legal challenges: copyrights, personal rights, editorial secret (journalist protection of unpublished basis material), neighbouring rights, etc. All this amounts to - together with a very complex production technique (where sound, script, moving image and photo are melted into complex structures) - an almost invincible challenge. If one searches for solutions, one has to keep in mind that the fundamental requirement is not only the content description of moving images, but also a practicable rights management system. The ORF Television Archive can introduce an interesting solution approach. 

The foundations of United States government information dissemination policy (Paper/Slides)
Robert GELLMAN, Privacy and Information Policy Consultant, (Washington, USA)
The American marketplace for information goods and services is supported by constitutional and statutory policies that make federal government information widely available for all uses without restriction and usually at the marginal cost of dissemination. The policies are found in the First Amendment to the Constitution, the Freedom of Information Act, the Copyright Act, and the Paperwork Reduction Act. These laws work together to minimize government information controls and to maximize public access. The result is a dynamic marketplace with government, commercial and other participants and with public demand for more federal information fuelled by and met through the Internet. Some countervailing pressures can nevertheless be identified. 

Cultural heritage: the conflict between commercialization and public ownership (Paper/Slides)
Edeltraud HANAPPI-EGGER , Technical University Vienna (A)
Cultural heritage - which can be seen as a specific part of public information - has become an important political header with respect to new information and communication technologies: on one side several cultural objects are in danger to be destroyed due to the bad state of materials, on the other side there is a general critique that a huge amount of cultural objects are not accessible to the public. For both aspects digitizing and offering access to those data via new information and communication technologies seem to be an adequate answer to the problem. Nevertheless in times of short budgets the question of selection (which pieces of cultural heritage should be digitized) immediately arises. Having a closer look to the meaning of cultural heritage and in particular to the underlying conflicting interests shows that the process of selection has to be seen as being embedded in a net of conflicting interests concerning several aspects such as selection criteria, access, and prizing. 

Access models for public sector information (Paper/Slides)
Rainer KUHLEN , Humboldt University Berlin
The role of UNESCO with respect to access models for public information is analysed by reviewing some of its recent statements, recommendations and programmes. These documents can be considered the normative basis for a new and fair compromise or balance between public and private interests by keeping access to information and knowledge open and free (not necessarily free of costs, but free of restrictions) from a public point of view or controlled from a commercial point of view. We try to find out how UNESCO can find a balance between its moral objectives and its political dependencies. Restrictions on free access (leasing, zoning, filtering) are discussed as well as proposals to achieve and secure free access to information, such as cooperation/partnership between private and public interest groups, infra-/meta-structure services such as public portals, genuine public information services, provision of direct access to public information without commercial intermediaries (e.g. direct publication of scientific and curricular material in academic environments) and exemptions from commercial control and private (copyright) rights. These restrictions and proposals are discussed in more detail in the full text version. 

Access to public sector information: in need for constitutional recognition? (Paper)
Corien PRINS, Tilburg University (NL)
This contribution focuses on the role of the law and, in more specific terms, the role of the constitution in modelling access to public sector information in our virtual society. The question immediately posed is whether the constitution actually plays a role in setting a legal framework for access to public sector information. What are the present dilemmas regarding access to public sector in an information society and do they justify a provision at the constitutional level. The answer to this question highly depends on the role of a constitution in an information society and more in general the role of the constitution under the countries' legal tradition. The primary aim of this contribution is to develop a vision on the role of the constitution when rectifying the present deficiency regarding access to public sector information. By way of an example, I have chosen the Dutch perspective. Thus, at various instances in this paper I will show how the Dutch government thinks about, and shapes, the constitutional status of access to public sector information. Of course, other countries as well may have dwelled upon the position of the constitution in light of the information society. Hence, the paper also takes a brief look at the legal status of access to public sector information in various countries. 

Privacy issues as limits to access (Paper)
Charles RAAB, University of Edinburgh (UK)
This paper considers the question of public access to information in relation to the protection of privacy. It looks at, and comments upon, the issues involved in freedom of information in general terms, and in regard to public registers and records, from the perspective of privacy protection. The longest section traces the history of investigations and information market/society policy initiatives in Europe in assessing the extent to which data protection has played a part in the approach to widening access to information, and in helping to shape understanding of conflicts and solutions, and it touches briefly on the question of data-sharing in the public sector. 

Possible structures for access legislation – how should the future access legislation be? (Paper)
Dag WIESE SCHARTUM, University of Oslo (N)
No abstract available... 
 

Access to and exploitation of public sector information in the context of the eEurope action-plan (Slides)
Ivo VOLMAN, European Commission, DG Information Society
Public sector information is a key content resource in the Information Society and may become even more important with the move towards mobile communications. There are, however, a number of barriers present in Europe that prevent a full use of this resource and that limit - for example - the possibilities to set up cross-border information services based on public sector information.
The eEurope action-plan has defined a number of actions to improve the situation. The eContent programme stimulates projects that show the economic potential of public sector information. In parallel actions are undertaken that will improve the framework conditions for exploitation. At present the European Commission is considering to propose a Directive in order to achieve a minimum harmonisation of the exploitation regimes throughout Europe.

Legal and political framework for the exploitation of PSI in Central Europe for boosting the information and content-industry
Gerhard WAGNER, Association of the Information Industry in Austria VIW (A)
No abstract available... 

UK Public Sector Information Policy and online Licensing Systems (Paper/Slides)
Jim WRETHAM, Her Majesty's Stationery Office (UK)
In recent years the UK Government has instigated a series of initiatives and policy reviews in connection with government information policy. The various reviews have focussed both on access to official information and its reuse by the private sector and others. Access to official information has been enhanced by the rapid expansion of information on government websites. Internet technology has also been utilised by HMSO, which takes the lead on licensing official information, in the implementation of an online licence known as the Click-Use Licence. This enables users to reuse a wide range of official information under the terms of one general licence.