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[Fwd: CEC Green Paper on Public Information Policy]

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Date: Fri, 16 Apr 1999 15:07:47 +0200
From: icsti <icsti@DIAL.OLEANE.COM>
Subject: CEC Green Paper on Public Information Policy
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MESSAGE FROM THE SECRETARIAT TO ALL ICSTI MEMBERS
*************************************************
The following information has been forwarded by CENDI for the ICSTI listserv:


The DG-XIII (Directorate-General which deals with telecommunications and
information policy) of the Commission of the European Communities has issued
a "Green Paper" on "Public Sector Information: A Key Resource for Europe."
The purpose of this document is to initiate a broad debate in the EU on the
policies regarding availability of public information.  It treats policy and
management issues regarding conditions of access to public sector
information, pricing, competition, intellectual property, privacy, liability,
and general related economic considerations.  It is also an excellent
resource document on existing EC and national  laws and policies in this
area.  The report raises a number of fundamental questions and invites
comments by 1 June 1999. The report can be found at www.echo.lu.  (There are
3 versions that can be downloaded from the web site and each is slightly
different.)  Information is also provided on upcoming hearings on this report.

The Paper considers public sector information to be fundamental to democracy,
the integration of Europe, the enhancement of free market conditions, the
global competitiveness of European business, and informed decision making at
all levels.  The ready availablity of public information is a prerequisite
for competitiveness by European industry.

According to the report, public information in Europe is often fragmented,
dispersed and less clear than intended.  This is mainly due to differing
national legislation.  The EU countries are at a significant disadvantage to
their American counterparts, which have benefitted from a highly developed
system of public to private sector information dissemination, including
freedom of information, low-cost access to public information, and the
provision of government locator services to guide the public to the
information.

Specific emphasis is placed on the economic disadvantages this situation
imposes on European- based information companies.  The report also points to
scientific, technical and medical information from the public sector as being
prime content to which the information industry can add value.  The report
acknowledges that the European information industry expressed itself
"strongly and often" regarding the "competitive disadvantage of European
publishers vis a vis their counterparts [in America]."

Pricing for public information is considered to be a crucial issue, because
it will determine if the private sector will invest in adding value to public
information.  The ability for American companies to obtain US public sector
information for free is considered to give them a great advantage over
European counterparts, boosting the US information industry. Price
comparisons for software products that include government geographical
information are used to show the discrepancy.

The Green Paper emphasizes the barriers that the lack of a clear, integrated
approach to public information by the Member States raises to the
opportunities for electronic government.  Emphasis has been placed on
electronic government initiatives at many levels, but these are often
hampered in practice.

The lack of information within and across the Member States causes
significant inefficiencies with economic repercussions.  In addition to
several social examples, the Green Paper specifically cites the impact on
patent information.  "The European Patent Office estimates that every year
more than 18 billion  Euro are spent on research that has been done before.
Better accessibility of information on the state of the art of research
[across the Member States], could decrease this amount."

The Green Paper raises a series of ten questions throughout the text.  These
include the definition of public sector, the degree to which metadata
information (ala GILS) would help in the location of public information,
unfair government competition issues, privacy considerations, and liability
concerns.

Further discussion and an exchange of best practices are anticipated as a
result of this Green Paper.  The broad range of issues will require
technical, administrative and political solutions.   Additional white papers
from the UK, the Netherlands, and France are referenced.

While there is a definite call for exploitation of public information,
concern is also raised about balancing the economic gains against the public
good.  The Paper indicates that there are "hardly any rules in Europe on
conditions for exploitation of public sector information by the private
sector".


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