Public interest data: Where are we? To do what?

27 Nov 2019 11:30h - 13:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

Discussions centred around public data and legal considerations, with panellists agreeing that public data should be open and owned by states, cities, and citizens.

Mr Laurent Cytermann (Conseil d’Etat, French Government) expressed concern about private data increasingly being owned by companies and non-governmental organisations, yet if the data is shared, it can protect the environment and foster competition and innovation. Ms Annie Blandin (French Digital Council, Conseil National du Numérique) focussed on environmental information about air, water, the state of human health activities, the moon and other celestial bodies, stating that environmental data is of interest and large amounts of data can be co-produced by machines.

According to Mr Lucien Castex (Researcher, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris), if you want to foster data-driven decision making, you need more data. Access, quality and timeliness of data were agreed to be of importance for machine learning, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. If data is not correct and not up to date, wrong decisions can be made and this can have a significant impact on human lives.

Blandin highlighted different legal bases for data collection and sharing. She stated that data is at the heart of competition and geopolitical issues, hence, the need to identify risks of appropriation and re-appropriation of environmental data by Chinese and American digital giants. She gave the example of Alibaba, which has partnered with biologists for agriculture products. She also mentioned the Court of Justice of the European Union, which has considered public interest discussions more important than the protection of commercial interests. Lucien mentioned the French Act for a Digital Republic of 2016, which allows the government to request commercial actors to give access to data for statistical purposes and research.

Mr Luca Belli (Professor, Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) Law School) discussed issues of legislation, stating the need to understand the value of utilising private data for public interests, which aligns with the open data movement. Regarding sharing of data, he said that it was unnecessary to share data unless specific regulations and policies required it.

Mr Sebastién Soriano (Chairman, ARCEP, French Telecom Regulator) mentioned that regulators are in constant contact with companies that are gathering data. In the telecommunications sector, companies are gathering data about the geo-localisation of people. He noted their focus on transparency, data aggregation, and the need to publish data under different formats (e.g. coverage maps).

Sharing examples, Cytermann shared two examples of projects, one non-for-profit and the other for profit: Open Food Facts, a project in which citizens can track ingredients in food in order to know which foods are healthy; and, a mobile-phone-based project that gives insights about traffic and pedestrian movement, a project that can be useful for city planning. Belli talked about the Brazilian case which involves interoperable standards regarding data regulators, which, according to the new law, will be able to define interoperability standards to allow data portability. Mr Chérif Diallo (Directeur des Technologies, Ministère des Postes et des Télécommunications, Senegal) shared the perspective of Senegal, noting that in 2017, a new initiative was launched allowing the Senegalese national agency to retrieve data on private subscribers whose names had been replaced. It was expected that the aggregated information would make it possible to identify the needs of the population. He also shared another project (Open Algorithm for Data Decision) that was supported by the French development agency, the World Bank, and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. The network has 720 partners from government, private companies, and universities, with the aim of promoting the use of data for public good.

Ms Francesca Bria (Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer of the City of Barcelona, and Senior Digital Advisor, United Nations (UN) Habitat) talked about the promotion by the UN of a coalition of over 60 cities that are implementing data coverage of smart cities. She highlighted a flagship project, noting democratic trust and enabling citizen empowerment and participation in implementing the digital society. For the City of Barcelona, a model has been devised in which data produced by citizens belongs to citizens, hence, bringing economic value back to the citizens. She emphasised education, which is important in empowering citizens and creating better services to improve their lives.

By Sarah Kiden