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GREEN PAPER ON PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION
IN THE INFORMATION SOCIETY
Annexe 1: Current situation in Member States regarding legislation and
policy on access to public sector information.
There is constitutional law (1987/285) of 15.5.1987, which stipulates a general
right of access. This constitutes a minimum framework: All officials at the
federal, regional or local level entrusted with administrative duties as well as
the officials of other public law corporate bodies should impart information
about matters pertaining to their sphere of competence in so far as this does not
conflict with a legal obligation to maintain secrecy. Citizens' access is usually
free but in some cases a charge is made covering, inter alia, the reproduction
and dissemination costs. Each department defines its commercialisation policy
under the control of the Minister responsible, on a case-by-case basis. There are
some cases of public and private sector co-operation, in the telecoms, debt
recovery, judicial and government information sectors, for example.
There are laws, at the federal (11.4.1994) and regional level (Flanders
23.10.1991 and 13.6.1996), on civil transparency, providing a general right of
access to documents held by a public authority. These laws, however, provide that
administrative documents thereby obtained may not be further distributed or used
for commercial ends. There is no general law on commercialisation of public
sector information. In the context of the civil transparency law, access is given
free of charge or at marginal cost. Commercialisation policies are pursued by
some government departments on the basis of case-by-case contract relationships.
Public and private co-operations have been established, for example in the
vehicle registration, statistics and geographic information sector. In the latter
sector, however, there have also been cases of litigation involving the relevant
As regards active dissemination, Postbus 3000 distributes information of the
Federal government by means of television and radio and by means of advertising
in newspapers and magazines. These forms of communication contain pointers to
brochures freely available to the public. The brochures hold contact information
and additional information on the subjects and the services involved.
Furthermore, citizens can obtain additional information via Postbus 3000. Postbus
3000 is a service provided by the Federal Information Service.
As of 24 March 1995, the Federal government maintains an extensive Internet
website in four languages (Dutch, French, English and German) at
. This 'umbrella website'
contains pointers to all Federal departments. A wide variety of information is
available, such as: general information on Belgium, decisions of the Council of
Ministers, useful addresses of governmental organisations and initiatives
regarding public sector information. The Communities and Regions also maintain
their own websites. These are accessible through the Federal website by means of
At present the establishment of a call center is being prepared (at Federal
level), enabling citizens to submit questions to the government. The Flemish
Community is undertaking comparable actions; In the Walloon Region such centre is
already in its operational phase.
Under a recommendation of the Council of Europe, As of 1997 the Council of State
is under the legal obligation to publish most of its decisions, which are made
available by means of CD-ROM and Internet."
A law is underway to replace two existing freedom of information laws which give
a general right of access to government documents. The Bill covers all the
society and is close to the EC 95/46 Directive statements. Pilots are planned
concerning open public mailing lists ; a standard about electronic publishing is
published, and all public publications will gradually be electronically
accessible. All public institutions have e-mail and are represented through the
Internet. Still more public electronic based self-service possibilities are
present. Access to electronic legal data and information is freely available.
As regards citizens access to print documents, the principle is that citizens
should only pay for the cost of access which is stipulated to be 10 DKR for the
first page and 1 DKR for each additional page. There is no specific law on
commercialisation of public sector information although the Info-Society 2000
Programme makes some reference. There has also been a 1992 Ministry of Finance
Budget Guide covering the public sector in general and setting "long term average
costs" and "fair competition" principles. Since the Danish market for electronic
information services is still relatively small, most of the public sector
information dissemination, both in print and electronic form, is carried out by
the public sector. Some commercial interest has been expressed in the fields of
population, company and land registers, law and statistics in which there have
been cases of public and private sector co-operation and competition.
A new pricing model concerning sale of public data is now worked into the Budget
Guide covering the public sector and decision has been taken on principles about
quality of and access to public data and the ongoing development activity. The
tendency is that new steps to create the open information society are quickly
There is a Publicity of Official Documents Act (83/9.2.1951), providing a general
access right to any document prepared and issued by a public authority, as well
as any document sent or given to a public authority and in its possession. In
1987 this right was extended to documents produced "by the use of punch marks,
magnetisation or other comparable means and intended to be read, listened to or
otherwise understood by means of technical devices". The law is currently being
revised and modernised. The new law will promote the use of authorities'
information matter outside the administration.
The Finnish market and commercialisation situation is otherwise similar to that
in Denmark. Private sector interest is still rather small and the main
dissemination initiatives are still within the public sector.
A 1995 report "Developing a Finnish Information Society" makes a brief reference
to encouraging commercial reuse by the private sector. Pricing policies were
established by the 1992 Act on Charging Criteria for the State which
distinguishes three types of government goods and services: a) those in the
public interest, provided free of charge b) those offered by monopoly bodies, or
following a legal requirement, provided at cost price and c) others, provided at
There is a general law on access to administrative documents (part of a wider law
concerning relations between the administrations and the public,
78-753/17.7.1978, amended in 1979), which excludes the possibility of
reproducing, disseminating or commercially exploiting the documents concerned.
Access "in situ" is free of charge, while copying costs are charged to the
requester. There is also a Prime Minister's circular of 14.2.1994 concerning the
dissemination of public data which establishes some policy principles for the
commercialisation of such data, distinguishing between raw data (being freely
accessible) and value-added data (in certain cases protected by copyright) and
discussing the information dissemination roles of the public and the private
sectors including competition and pricing issues.
There is a large private sector participation in the public sector information
market. This has been more successful in some areas (geographic, company
information) than in others (agricultural, judicial information). There is a
policy of providing public concessions to private sector companies which, some
commentators feel raises competition issues.
In the Government action programme "Preparing France's entry into the information
society" published on 16 January 1998, the French Government announced that
"essential public data" will be freely available on the Internet. This initiative
recognises that the development of the networks has profoundly changed the
traditional distinction between access to public information and its
dissemination. Furthermore it stresses the fact that the ability to access public
sector information sources is vital to the development of the information market
and thus the information industry.
Germany has neither a general access law nor a law on commercialisation of public
sector information. A large number of sectoral laws offer access to specific
types of information (e.g. administrative complaints, environmental information).
Some Länder have constitutional provisions and are in the process of preparing
general access laws. Commercialisation practices have been developed by different
authorities separately. In some cases (e.g. financial-commercial statistics)
there are examples of successful public/private sector co-operation while in
others (e.g. company information) there have been difficulties. Pricing policies
also differ widely, depending on the legal basis of the request, the public
sector agency in question and the intended use of the information. This variety
of policies is accentuated by the federal structure of the state.
Greece has a law providing general access (1599/1986), which does not allow for
the commercial exploitation of the public sector documents concerned. Although
there is no general law or policy concerning commercial dissemination of public
sector information, the Ministry of the Interior and Public Administration is
working on its legal framework. The electronic information market is very small
and the market potential of public sector information has not yet been
established (apart from a few exceptions in the cultural, tourism, agriculture
and legal fields). Several government bodies are already in a process of
developing information systems to make their content accessible both to business
The Freedom of Information Act, 1997, was the first significant piece of
legislation that obliged government Departments and Offices to publish details of
their information holdings. This Act asserts the right of members of the public
to obtain access to official information to the greatest extent possible
consistent with the public interest and the right to privacy.
Under the Act, public bodies are required to publish certain information about
themselves and also to make available details of their internal rules,
procedures, interpretations, etc. used in decision making. Many Departments and
Offices publish this information on the Internet. The central purpose of this
information is to assist the public in ascertaining the information held by each
organisation and how to access it.
In respect of non-personal information, fees may be charged in respect of the
time spent in efficiently locating and retrieving records, based on a standard
hourly rates. Photocopying charges may also apply. In respect of personal
records, copying charges only will apply, save where a large number of records
are involved. No charges may apply in respect of the time spent by public bodies
in considering requests.
In addition, most government Departments and Offices produce publications
relating to their interests. These are generally issued free where it is
desirable for purposes of public policy, or are priced on a cost recovery basis.
While there is no general law or policy on the commercialisation of public sector
information some organisations (e.g. Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, etc.) market
information. Where this happens pricing policy is, in general, market-led with
the commercial rate being charged. Commercialisation and public/private sector
co-operation occur mainly in the field of law and statistics.
The 1996 report "Information Society Ireland - Strategy for Action" envisages
free or low cost access to public databases and information services, coupled
with the use of information and communications technologies in the public sector
to deliver citizen-centred applications to the public. All newly published
government information is to be made available electronically and on paper at the
same time from a specified data ; low cost ("lo-call") telephony access to
government Departments and Offices has already been introduced and will be
enhanced with self-service over the Internet, fax on demand, etc.; government web
sites will be developed with a view to increasing interactivity and potential for
There is a general access law (241/7.8.1990), although in many cases access
depends on the existence of a legal interest. There is no general law or policy
concerning commercialisation of public sector information. Access based on the
aforementioned law is free of charge. Pricing policies for commercial purposes
differ in the various public sector bodies. Examples of public/private
co-operation exist in areas like company information and statistics. In some
cases there have been complaints relating to competition rules.
There is neither a general access law nor any general rulings regarding
commercial exploitation of public sector information, although a working group
has been set up to examine this issue. In practice, when available, public sector
information is either given free of charge or at distribution cost price. There
are, as yet, no examples of public/private sector co-operation. The tiny size of
the market probably discourages strictly national initiatives.
There is a Government Information Act (entered into force in 1980, amended in
1992) which compels administrative authorities to disseminate government
information actively, and to provide information upon request. There are,
however, exemptions from and restrictions to these obligations. These exemptions
and restrictions are comparable to those under other general access laws (e.g.
exemptions in the interests of the state, third parties and the protection of the
decision making process).
The Ministry of the Interior has a co-ordinating role regarding public sector
information policy. As yet, there is no general policy on the exploitation or
commercial reuse of public sector information. Consequently, administrative
authorities set out their own policies. However, steps have been taken towards
the development of a general policy.
As a first step the Cabinet issued a memorandum "Towards the accessibility of
government information, Policy framework for increasing the accessibility of
government information through information and communication technology" in June
1997. The key topic in the memorandum is which public sector information should
be made available electronically, who for, why, how and at what price. In the
Cabinet's view, so-called basic information of the democratic constitutional
state (legislation and regulation, statements by the judiciary courts and
parliamentary information) should be made accessible as much as possible since
this category of information is generally speaking, public. ICT may be an
important instrument in this. Regarding electronic data files of administrative
authorities, the Cabinet has noted in the memorandum that a policy needs to be
developed governing access to file data, in particular the access by the private
As a follow-up to the memorandum, electronic data files of administrative
authorities are currently being examined on type, use, origin of the data and
legal status. The aim is to categorise electronic data files in order to develop
policy measures for the access to specific types of data files. Such measures are
considered necessary since it is unlikely that exploitation or commercial reuse
of electronic public sector data files, given their diversity, can be covered by
a general rule.
There is a general access to public sector information law (65/26.8.1993), but no
general rules or policies concerning commercialisation. In general, information
is charged at the lowest possible price, in view of the public service mission of
the public authorities. There is a public citizens access project providing
kiosk-type access to specific areas of public sector information, the technical
execution of which is to some extent entrusted to the private sector. Some
further examples of public/private sector co-operation exist in the company and
legal information areas, although the small size of the market and the relative
lack of electronic government databases does not encourage such commercial
Spain has a general access law (30/26.11.1992) which does not currently apply to
computerised information. A legal interest in the requested information is
required. A royal decree has recently been adopted regulating the use of
electronic information techniques by the central general administrations.
Reference is included to the relationship between administration and citizen.
Recent studies have shown that information on 34% of public services is
accessible to the public, access being provided in certain cases in collaboration
with the private sector. There is no general commercialisation policy. Tariffs
vary from zero(40% of the cases) to market prices. There are many examples of
public/private sector co-operation especially at regional and local level in
areas like external trade, finance, culture, education and science while in areas
like company information and statistics, co-operation has been either
non-existent or unsuccessful.
Sweden has the oldest access law in the world (the 1766 Freedom of the Press Act,
last amended in 1994) giving access to documents kept by a public authority,
including electronic documents. All documents drawn up or received by an
authority are included. Access to documents is free of charge, although a charge
is made for documents over 9 pages. There is no obligation to make available
records for electronic data processing in any form other print-outs.
Access can be denied only with reference to a specific clause in legislation
demanding secrecy (the Secrecy Act).
In principle, this legislation also covers information held in databases and
registers of public authorities. Access to information in data systems and
registers are in practice limited to such data that can be extracted and
delivered with routine procedures. There are special provisions in the Data
Protection Act for a citizen to get information on what data are recorded
concerning him/herself in public registers.
A new Personal Data Act will come into force in October 1998. The Act is largely
based on the EU directive on protection of personal data. The new legislation
does not impinge upon the constitutional right of public access to official
A limited number of larger national databases and public registers are by law
authorised to be used for commercial information services (addresses to persons
and companies, real estate and land information, vehicle information,
etc.).Within the business sector, such information can then be used for value
added services. Pricing of the public information is normally based on a cost
recovery principle. No other commercial sales of public register information is
Government and municipal authorities are organising their information resources
so that they can provide more information electronically , and not only with
reference to the Freedom of Press Act, which presently only guarantees access to
documents in paper form, but as a service to the public and to business.
A Committee has been given the task of reviewing the constitutional rules on the
public's right of access to official documents from an IT perspective.
The Government IT Bill, passed by Parliament in Spring 1996, outlines the
direction in the Government policy for further opening up public sector to
electronic access. The Bill stresses the power of IT to strengthen transparency,
democracy and to create economic advantages for society, and sets out general
guidelines for public and business sector access to information, as well as for
In the Government Public Administration Bill of 1998 information service in the
public sector is one of the main issues. As a basic principle pricing of public
information should be based on recovery of distribution costs. The Government
also sets the direction of the further work in this field, including how to
define national basic data and how to make information from public registers more
easily accessible in electronic form. The authorities whose work is primarily at
dealing with companies and individuals should offer electronic services for
self-service as a complement to traditional services.
There is a proposal from the Ministry of Justice for renewal of the Legal Data
Information System, Rixlex 2000, which is currently subject for consultation. The
system has a decentralised structure. Each of the suppliers of information to the
system is responsible for the accuracy of the contents of submitted material.
Within the general framework outlined above, a number of practical and
legislative activities are continuing to further adapt and develop information
management, openness, synergy and liability in the new electronic environment.
There is no law giving a general right of access to information held by central
government. A Code of Practice, published in 1994, gives rights of access to
information broadly comparable with statutory regimes in other countries. These
include a commitment for government departments to voluntarily disclose certain
types of information of public interest. The Code is not legally enforceable but
is policed by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who is independent of government. A
separate Code of Practice on Openness in UK health services was issued in 1995.
The present Government took office in May 1997 with the clear commitment to a
Freedom of Information Act. A White Paper entitled "Your right to know" was
published in December 1997, setting out proposals for Freedom of Information
legislation which would go significantly beyond the Code of Practice in it's
A draft Freedom of Information Bill is due to be published by the Government in
The Government has also established an Internet service for government
). All new
statutes and statutory instruments are published on the Internet (at
). There is a right of access to
information held by local government (Local Government Act 1985) and to various
types of personal information, such as medical records and information held by
social services departments.
The Department of Trade and Industry guidelines on Government-Held Tradable
Information were first published in 1986 to provide guidance to government
departments on making their information available to the private sector. These
were last revised in 1990 and, because of recent changes, the Government
considers there may now be scope for further revision. They cover issues like
identifying the tradable information, costs and charges, contract matters, Crown
copyright obligations, security and privacy, liability, competition,
non-exclusivity and non-discrimination towards EC service providers.
The development of government executive agencies run on cost recovery lines has
reinforced the tendency for Government to make information available in a number
of ways, both commercially and non-commercially. The level of charging depends on
the type of material and the degree to which it is being sold for commercial
There have been calls from the private sector for liberalisation of the copyright
licensing regime in order to facilitate the non-exclusive licensed reproduction
by the private sector of various types of information and the government has
announced various initiatives in copyright policy governing reproduction of
statutory material and the use of class licences. In the UK, which has the
biggest and longest established electronic information market in the E.U., there
have been many examples of public/private sector co-operation such as geographic,
legal and company information. A Green Paper entitled "Crown Copyright in the
Information Age" dealing with access to public sector information, was published
in January 1998.
Annexe 2: European Commission action
relating to public sector information - The background to this Green
1. Some Milestones
In September 1996, in its resolution on the Commission's Action Plan for the
Information Society, the European Parliament requested that new forms of
electronic distribution be exploited for the dissemination of public information
to all citizens at European and national level.
In October 1996, in its resolution on new policy priorities in the information
society, the Industry Council urged Member States to improve access to public
information, through the accelerated use of information society tools and
partnerships between the public and private sector.
Access to public sector information has been one of the priority issues addressed
by the ministerial declaration issued at the conference on Global Information
Networks, which took place in Bonn on 6-8 July 1997.
Non-governmental actors have also been encouraging action in this area. A strong
request for an access to public information initiative has recently been made by
the Information Society Forum (Vienna Declaration of 13-11-1998).
In addition, mention should be made of initiatives that are being undertaken in
other international bodies, for instance, the activities of the Council of
2. Openness of EU institutions
Since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, the openness of EU institutions has
been substantially improved. Considerable efforts have been made to ensure an
easier access to the Institutions documents. In 1994 the Commission issued, for
example, a decision on public access to Commission documents (decision of 8
February 1994 as modified on 19 September 1996).
In the Amsterdam Treaty the importance of this issue was underlined by the
inclusion of a specific provision regarding transparency of the European
institutions. A new article has been inserted into the Treaty, stipulating that
any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its
registered office in a Member State, has a right of access to documents of the
European institutions (Parliament, the Council and the Commission), subject to
principles and conditions to be defined in Council legislation and in the rules
of procedure of each institution, with a view to the greatest possible openness.
In terms of the transparency principle, the Amsterdam Treaty marks a new stage in
the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in
which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the
The Treaty also states that the Council, when acting in its legislative capacity,
is under an obligation to make votes and explanations of vote public.
A user's guide available in print and on the World Wide Web sets out the
practical details of the current Commission's access policy (
3. An active information dissemination policy
All EU institutions maintain a family of WWW sites accessible through one single
offering a large amount of information.
Within the framework of PRINCE, the information programme for the European
citizen, three "Priority Information Actions" have been launched :
Office for Official Publications
of the European Communities
(EUR-OP) is the official publisher of the
institutions of the European Union. The three principal functions of EUR-OP are
editing, technical and administrative support and distribution. EUR-OP, with a
number of representatives of European publishing houses, has created a EU -
Publishers Forum. Acting on behalf of all the institutions. EUR-OP is to give
access to data currently available on databases and is to encourage publishers to
use unpublished EU material. EUR-OP has always recommended to the institutions to
follow the 1989 Synergy Guidelines of the Commission. The conditions to which the
dissemination is subject to vary with the value-added attached to the
information. For instance,
displays free of charge the
Official Journal for a period of forty-five days following publication and is
updated daily in 11 languages with the latest editions of the Official Journal,
which are available on the Internet a few hours after the paper version is
is a subscription-based computerised
inter institutional documentation system for Union law containing the whole body
of European Union law : a flat fee subscription to CELEX is available offering
unlimited consumption for ECU 960/year.
4. Background initiatives to the Green Paper
The potential importance of public sector information as a resource first
attracted the Commission's attention in the mid 1980s, when, in the context of
the IMPACT programme for creating a Community information market and in response
to a need perceived by the information industry, it started a consultation
process with public and private sector information providers' and users'
representatives. In addition, studies were carried out with respect to these
issues. Furthermore, the Commission organised a number of preparatory discussions
with the help of the Legal Advisory Board (for more information see the LAB Home
Page on the European Commission WWW server I*M EUROPE at the address:
These initiatives resulted in a set of 19 guidelines for 'Improving the Synergy
between the Public and Private Sectors in the Information Market'. However,
subsequent studies proved that the impact of these guidelines was rather
disappointing. In most Member States the guidelines seem to have had little, if
The Commission organised a meeting in Stockholm on June 27 and 28, 1996, at which
a large number of participants discussed various issues related to this Green
Paper. Participants expressed their consensus on the actions undertaken so far
(the proceedings are available on request).
The first legislative initiative in this area was the adoption of Directive
90/313/EEC of 23 June 1990 on the freedom of access to information on the
environment, providing all legal and natural persons with a right of access to
information concerning the environment held by public authorities. Further
actions have been taken by the EU in the environment field. In particular the
work done by the European Environment Agency should be recalled in that respect.
Furthermore, on 25 June 1998, the Presidency of the Council and the Commission
have signed the UN/ECE Convention on access to information, public participation
in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.
Annexe 3: Current situation in the US: the
The United States have a long experience of
active public sector information
. In 1966 the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted. The FOIA
was amended in 1996 by the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (EFOIA) which
public access to federal government information electronically
Government Information Locator Services (GILS) have been set up with a view to
access to federal information
by identifying resources relevant
to users, describing the information available and assisting in assuring access
Through a number of acts additional to the FOIA (like the Paperwork Reduction Act
and the Government in the Sunshine Act and detailed policy documents such as the
Office of Management and Budget circular A130) - the US has strongly
encouraged the private sector to
exploit public sector information
The 1986 Uniform Freedom of Information Act Fee Schedule and Guidelines issued by
the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) deals amongst others with
. It contains provisions essentially charging for search, duplication
and (possibly) review costs but not for the value added by the public sector to
the raw data. The US
is that the public sector should
see the adding of value only as a tool for its own efficiency purposes, and not
as an incentive for profit making. On the other hand, if the private sector is to
make a commercially viable product or service, it should be able to add value
beyond that added by the public sector and sell it at a profit making price.
There is no copyright on government information at federal level.
In the US, the most important reference to
competition related issues
made in the 4.1.1995 Paperwork reduction Act, Section 3506, dealing with federal
agency responsibilities. It stipulates that:
"each agency shall ensure that the public has timely and equitable access to the
agency's public information…"
but also indicates that it should
except where specifically
authorised by statute:
- "establish an exclusive, restricted, or other distribution arrangement that
interferes with timely and equitable availability of public information to the
- restrict or regulate the use, resale, or redissemination of public information
by the public;
- charge fees or royalties for resale or redissemination of public information;
- establish user fees for public information that exceed the cost of