French PM: government bodies must facilitate public data access

The PM urged government bodies to do more to facilitate access to their data, algorithms, and codes, "in open formats that can be used by third parties." [EPA-EFE/GONZALO FUENTES / POOL]

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has appealed to government bodies to make public data more easily accessible to third parties, particularly in light of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. EURACTIV France reports.

In an address delivered on Tuesday (27 April), the prime minister reminded ministries and state administrations of the strategic importance of an ambitious public data policy and urged leaders to get “personally” involved in facilitating third-party access to data.

“The unprecedented health crisis we are experiencing has demonstrated that the opening up and use of public data, particularly in relation to monitoring the pandemic, is essential for the effectiveness of public action, the monitoring of government action and democratic debate,” he said.

The PM urged government bodies to do more to facilitate access to their data, algorithms, and codes, “in open formats that can be used by third parties”. He is also urging them to turn to free and open software – an initiative welcomed by free software organisations.

“This is a first step in the right direction, which should be confirmed and detailed,” the free software association April said. However, the group recalled that a similar appeal by former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault back in 2012 had largely gone unheeded.

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Castex also urged administrations to scrap the fees sometimes charged for the re-use of data they provide by 2023.

Although French law stipulates that “the re-use of public information is free of charge”, services that are required to “cover a substantial part of the costs associated” with making the information available through their own revenues may deviate from the rule.

“The exploitation of administrative data thus allows for a better evaluation of public policies and simplifies relations between users and the public service”, the prime minister said.

Ministries are also required to appoint what has been termed a “ministerial data administrator” by 15 May to oversee the digital strategy within each department. The same has been requested for the regions, which will be required to have “data, algorithms and source code referent” appointed by the prefect.

“The opening up and circulation of data, already practised in the territories, is a major challenge in terms of simplification and transparency of local public action, which must be promoted and supported,” Castex stressed.

The head of government has also asked his ministers to present a road map by 15 July setting out their strategy for implementing these guidelines and to ensure their public data is properly referenced on government portals and

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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