Thursday, October 18, 2012

Opening data in Spain - legal situation

(Here there is a Catalan translation of this post)

A few days ago, people from a European-wide technology project, asked me to draft a short article about the legal status of open data in Spain.

I copy this article here for those who might be interested.

Opening data in Spain - legal situation

Despite the high volume of initiatives around opening Spanish public data (17 nowadays), the opening of public data in Spain is still low regulated, especially at regional and local level. There is, however, some legislation at national level.

Here it is a short chronological summary of the main actions regarding legislation around opening data in Spain:

  • 2003: European Parliament, Council of Europe: “Directive 2003/98/CE of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe about the re-use of information on the public sector (RISP)” [1].
  • 2007: Transposition to the Spanish legislation of the Directive 2003/98/CE: Law 37/2007 [2].
  • 2011: Royal Decree 1495/2011# that develops the Law 37/2007 [3].

In 2003 the European Parliament legislated the Directive 2003/98/CE about the re-use of public sector information. This directive didn’t oblige public administrations to allow the re-use of the information that they were managing, but it did indicated how this re-use had to be done in those administrations that decided to open their information.

This directive explicitly states the importance of public sector information as raw material for different services and products in the framework of an increasingly relevant Information Society.

On november 17 2007 the Law 37/2007 was published in BOE (Official Journal in Spain) about the re-use of public sector information. This law transposed to the Spanish legislation the Directive 2003/98/CE (two years after the deadline).

This law established a general legal framework for the re-use of public sector information to all Spanish public bodies (without obliging them to open data). Moreover, it also provides a wide definition of the public sector information susceptible of being re-used, going from traditional documents to data sets, under the control of public administrations to execute their function as public service providers. It also provides a definition for the kind of conditions under which re-use of public information will be authorised allowing always its identification through lists and online indexes (for search engines).

On the other hand, the law indicates the conditions of use for re-used information, without any kind of exclusivity right and, if desired, without any other restriction. If it is the case, it indicates how the economical returns should be for the re-use of public information.

The approval of the Law 37/2007 was the start for the development of the re-use of public sector information in Spain. However, as usual, the approval of this law was not enough for the re-use of public information to become real. More efforts were needed other than merely approving a new law. There was the need to create a conscience of re-use and dissemination actions for the success of this task. For this reason the initiative Proyecto Aporta [4] was created -  promoted by the Ministry of Territorial Policy and Public Administration and by the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Business - with the objective of creating a culture and raise awareness on the importance of re-use of public information among citizens, professionals and business in Spain.

At the end of 2012 the Royal Decree 1495/2011 that developed - only at national level - the Law 37/2007 was approved. The objective of this Royal Decree - redacted by the Government and by the citizenry itself through a participative process - was to overcome the barriers that impeded that re-use of public sector information in Spain broadened.

Despite the approval of the Law 37/2007, still there were obstacles like the uncertainty about the real re-useness of public information. Also there was (in fact still is) an amalgam of different conditions for the re-use of public data that make it difficult for the re-use of more than one information source, like the low use of open standards and information formats that can be processed automatically. Another big problem was the unclear definition of responsibilities in the information provision chain of public entities and the low quantity of public data really offered for their re-use.

Taking into account these barriers, the Royal Decree 1495/2011 developed the Law 37/2007 for the national government. Its main objective was the openness of all data. This means that all data has to be open by default and the possible exceptions must be adequately justified. This was an important change with regard to the Law 37/2007. It also authorizes, in general terms, the re-use of information and forces the administrations to pen their data and to inform, in a proactive way, about the information they open for its re-use.

Furthermore, another novelty of this Royal Decree is the obligation for each administration to constitute a responsible body for the re-use of public information, solving the problem of definition of responsibilities in opening public data.

The Law also offers legal support (and obligations) to the catalogue of open information. It defines a legal advice figure. This action makes the re-use of public sector information easier and more comfortable if it is used widely, and it represents a simplification of its management by the administration. It also states that the transfer of public information will be free of charge and non exclusive. The objective is to reach any interested citizen and that they do not have to pay for these services (with some exceptions). The gratuity and universalization of re-usable information access is basic to attain the benefits of re-use. It is a Royal Decree that moved forward some of the recommendations that the European Commission recently made for the next revision of the Directive 2003/98/CE.

On the other hand, it should be born in mind that some regions in Spain have already approved open government laws (like the case of Navarra [5]) or are in the step of having draft bills for informative transparency laws (Autonomous Community of the Basque Country [6] or the City of Zaragoza [7]). In all of these cases the promotion of the opening of data is one of the most important parts of the text.

The image of this post is from service, initiative that manages the "Catalogue of Public Information" of the Spanish State Government.

I want to thank to Júlia López Ventura for the English translation of this post.

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