Among the proposals for the European Commission’s ‘A Europe for the Digital Age‘, the EU has proposed that data-sharing between governments and businesses — including that of non-personal data — be increased. In the European Data Strategy released yesterday, the Commission has proposed a possible Data Act 2021 which will “foster business-to-government data sharing for the public interest”. It will also support “business-to-business data sharing, in particular addressing issues related to usage rights for co-generated data (such as IoT data in industrial settings), typically laid down in private contracts”.

The European Data Sharing policy is aimed at ensuring that the EU becomes a “genuine single market for data” and a society “empowered by data to make better decisions – in business and the public sector”. Limited availability and access to data is among the reasons the EU has not been able to “realize its potential” in the global data economy, and “the increasing volume of non-personal industrial data and public data in Europe” along with its storage and processing “will constitute a potential source of growth and innovation that should be tapped”, the announcement said.

“Citizens should be empowered to make better decisions based on insights gleaned from non-personal data. And that data should be available to all – whether public or private, big or small, start-up or giant. This will help society to get the most out of innovation and competition and ensure that everyone benefits from a digital dividend”

The EU’s narrative on data-sharing is a line similar to what the Indian government has taken on non-personal data. Even as a government-formed committee is looking into a governance framework for non-personal data, the PM Modi government — under the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 — has granted itself the power to demand non-personal data from companies for evidence-based policy-making and for better targeting of services. However, in its comments about data-sharing, the Commission takes caution of user privacy and pulls back from mandatory sharing:

The paper says the proposed Data Act 2021 will:

  1. Make access to data be made compulsory “only where specific circumstances dictate” and “where appropriate under fair, transparent, reasonable, proportionate and/or non-discriminatory conditions
  2. Evaluate the IPR framework with a view to further enhance data access and use

How the Commission will deal with Big Tech and data

The Commission will consider how to address “more systemic issues related to platforms and data, including by ex ante regulation if appropriate, to ensure that markets stay open and fair” in the context of vast amounts of data held by Big Tech companies.

  • The way Big Tech companies use and share the data across sectors is being analysed by the EU Observatory of the Online Platforms Economy formed in September 2019. The Big Tech issue will not be addressed as part of the Data Act, “but under the broader fact-finding around the high degree of market power of certain platforms and also in the context of the Commission’s work on the Digital Services Act package”.

Why Europe is unable to realise its potential: limits in access to data, says Commission

One of the reasons the EU is unable to “realise its potential” in the data economy is the limited availability of data, said the Commission in the paper. There isn’t enough data available for innovative reuse, including for the development of AI, it said. This arises out of who the data holder is, who the data user is, and the nature of data involved — personal data, non-personal data, or mixed data-sets:

  1. Government-to-business data sharing: Though the EU has had a long-standing policy of opening up government-held information, including with the Open Data Directive and other legislation, governments can still do more; high-value datasets are not available under the same conditions across the EU; for instance, health data in public databases in not made available for research purposes
  2. Business-to-business sharing: Companies do not share data between each other since they lack the economic incentive, fear of losing competitive edge, “lack of trust between economic operators that the data will be used in line with contractual agreements”, imbalances in negotiating power, and so on.
  3. Use of privately-held data by government authorities: Enough public sector data is not available to improve “evidence-based policy making” and “public services such as mobility management”.
  4. Government-to-government sharing is existent but limited

How the Commission will increase access to data

Apart from the Data Act 2021, the Strategy document lays out other steps to increase cross-sectoral data access and use:

  1. Enable a legislative framework for the governance of common European data spaces (Q4 2020) to help decide what data can be used, and in which situations; facilitate cross-border data use and; prioritise interoperability and standards across sectors.
  2. Implementing an act on high-value data sets under the Open Data Directive by Q1 2021, to make datasets available for free across the EU, in a machine-readable format and through standardised Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This is aimed at making more high-quality data available for re-use, particularly for SMEs.
  3. Assist EU members to to ensure a timely and accurate transposition of the new rules of the Open Data Directive by July 2021.
  4. Establish nine common European data spaces, including Green Deal data space, mobility data space, financial data space, and six others that are envisioned to make large pools of data available in the concerned sector. A health data space, for instance, will help detect and cure diseases, and make evidence-based decisions to improve healthcare delivery.

Other action points in the Data Strategy

Investing in data and strengthening Europe’s capabilities and infrastructure for hosting, processing and using data, and interoperability

  1. Investing in a high-impact project on European data spaces and federated cloud infrastructures in 2021-27: This will fund infrastructures, data-sharing tools, architectures and governance mechanisms for thriving data-sharing and AI ecosystems. EU members and industry are expected to co-invest with the Commission in this, with total funding of €4-6 billion, of which the Commission will aim at financing €2 billion.
    1. This will be accompanied by wider set of strategic EU investments in new technologies that the Commission will present in March 2020 as part if its industrial strategy
  2. Developing common European data spaces and interconnecting cloud infrastructures
    1. Establish EU-wide common interoperable data spaces and interconnecting cloud infrastructures: this will involve deploying data-sharing tools; creating data governance frameworks and; improving availability, quality, and interoperability of data.
    2. Sign an MoU with EU member countries on cloud federation by Q3 2020;
  3. Develop a cloud rulebook for a framework around different rules (and self-regulation) for cloud services by Q2 2022: this will offer a compendium of existing cloud codes of conduct and certification
    1. Develop common standards and requirements for the public procurement of data processing services
    2. Set up a cloud services marketplace for EU users from the private and public sector by Q4 2022