German government will make more data publicly available with new law

The federal government is hoarding vast amounts of data. Step by step, the general public is gaining access to it. [Andrey_Kuzmin | Shutterstock]

The German government wants to create a culture of open data sharing – and is setting a good example. The second Open Data Act, which the cabinet passed on Wednesday (10 February), expands the obligations of public authorities to make their data available to the general public. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Like all organisations that provide services, the German government needs to collect data about customers. In this case, that would be the population. This treasure trove of public sector data is now to be shared more with the general public in order to promote innovation and research.

Data is the substance of digital innovation. Algorithms, for example for artificial intelligence or to personalise offers, have to be “fed” with large amounts of data to learn. That is why the German government wants data to be shared between private companies and is now setting a good example.

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Exceptions for small authorities

From now on, public authorities will be obliged to make their data available to the public in machine-readable form.

A data provision obligation has already existed since 2017, but only for “direct administration,” i.e. the state’s own authorities such as ministries. Now it is also being extended to indirect administration, including corporations, foundations and institutions under public law, such as the financial supervisory authority BaFin or the national library.

Self-governing bodies, for example, professional associations such as the Chamber of Notaries, and so-called “beneficiaries,” private companies that perform government tasks, are thus excluded.

To monitor implementation, open data coordinators are to be appointed in the offices. They will then be the contact persons for the provision of data. However, they only have to be deployed in the immediate administrative apparatus if it employs more than 50 people.

Previously, exceptions applied to research data. These, too, are now being weakened. Accordingly, data collected by scientific methods will not be published until “the purpose of the research has been fulfilled.” This could include, for example, when the law whose passage the data supported has been passed.

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Concern about private data sharing obligation

Private companies are not affected by this second German open data law. However, the government wants to promote a “culture of voluntary and responsible data sharing,” according to Germany’s data strategy, adopted two weeks ago.

In this context, eco, the German Internet industry association, sees the risk of a future obligation to share data. At that point, at the latest, it will be necessary to examine “the extent to which such an obligation would affect innovation and competition,” according to an eco spokeswoman.

The new law, which will now enter the parliamentary procedure, implements an EU directive, the so-called “Open Data and Public Sector Information Directive,” adopted in Brussels in 2019. The directive obliges EU countries to make as much public sector data as possible available for innovation and research. It must be fully implemented by summer at the latest.

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The move comes as part of the …

Bundestag’s turn

Praise is already coming from the CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag.

“With the second Open Data Act, we want to give a boost to the data economy in Germany,” MP Hansjörg Durz, deputy chair in the Digital Committee, told EURACTIV Germany.

“Having already provided access to the data treasure trove of large digital corporations with the GWB amendment, we are now leveraging the further potential of public sector data. In doing so, we are improving the basis for innovation and promoting a thriving start-up scene for the prosperity of tomorrow,” Durz continued.

“In the parliamentary process, we must carefully examine whether we are really leveraging all the potential that lies dormant in public authorities and public companies.”

The opposition, on the other hand, is more critical.

“This is not the big picture,” MP Dieter Janecek, a Green member of the Digital Committee, told EURACTIV Germany. When it comes to open data, he said, “Germany has so far ranked in the middle of the pack, at best”.

“Although the CDU/CSU and SPD have already committed themselves in the coalition agreement to making more speed with Open Data, it has taken three years to draft this law. And the Ministry of the Interior has gotten its way with generous exemptions for various authorities,” said Janecek.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Samuel Stolton]

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