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In our latest update from Brussels, our public affairs columnist Patrick Gibbels takes a look at the European Commission’s examination of High Value Datasets, exploring how public data should become more accessible for use by charities and nonprofits.
One of the key EU policy files the European Fundraising Association (EFA) is monitoring is the European Data Strategy. It is an overarching policy centered around constructing a single market for data with the explicit aim of ensuring Europe’s global competitiveness and data sovereignty. The European Commission is now examining the concept of High Value Datasets, which should determine the type of public data that should become freely accessible for re-use by small businesses, and (civil) society as a whole. How does it relate to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and what is the potential value for the nonprofit sector?
New technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning can help organisations to extract more meaningful information from their data. For instance, in order to find out where the highest demand for your services is, you would need to have a deeper understanding of who your users are and where your services currently operate. By overlaying open datasets it will become possible to estimate where potential service users are located. The EU wants to make this type of data more accessible.
The legislative backbone of the EU’s open data policy is the Open Data Directive, which is geared towards opening up public sector data for re-use for the purpose of innovation. High Value Datasets, as introduced in the Directive, are those datasets whose re-use is associated with important benefits for society and economy. Politically, this is of course a sensitive subject, as the EU has spent the last years ensuring the privacy of its citizens, most notably through the GDPR. Therefore, whilst the Directive lays down EU-wide minimum harmonisation rules on the re-use of public sector information, the sensitive matter of which data is to be considered High Value, is left to the European Commission by means of a delegated act. This is a tool that is often used at EU level to leave certain elements of new legislation blank, so that the Commission can decide on technical details later.
What does this mean for charities? What we know is that the information must be available in machine readable formats, which means its purpose by design is to facilitate those activities aided by machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). NGOs are using AI and machine learning more and more to develop a better and deeper understanding of their beneficiaries as well as their (potential) supporters. However, data can be difficult to come by and even when available, often comes licensed and at a hefty fee. Having more data readily available at little to no cost could be of great benefit to those organisations that are using AI or are planning to do so.
Some organisations have asked the question whether this means that this piece of legislation will have priority over the GDPR. Whilst this does not seem the case, the text is not entirely clear about this, as it states that it is without prejudice to Union law but remains vague about how it wants to achieve a wider layer of available public datasets. “As concerns individuals, the current safeguards in the text of the Directive (e.g. precedence of data protection rules, exclusion on the grounds of 3rd party Intellectual Property Rights) will ensure that their fundamental rights will not be affected. The initiative will at the same time contribute to the exercise of the freedom of expression and information and the freedom of the arts and science (Articles 11 and 13 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights), by making more data available for use by all”.
EFA has contacted the Unit responsible in DG CNECT (Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology) for clarification, and will provide updates of any key developments.
Lastly, a brief update on other files EFA is monitoring for you. The contributions to the public consultation on the Action Plan on anti-money laundering have been published. Legislative acts are expected in the first quarter of 2021. Regarding the Commission’s Action plan on tax evasion and to make taxation simple and easy, the European Parliament has designated the responsible committees to handle this issue. The politicians responsible for drafting the actual reports have yet to be appointed. The Single Market Enforcement Action Plan is at the exact same stage: we are waiting for the politicians to be appointed. Once this has been done, we will know who to target if we wish to exert influence on (elements of) the files. We expect a first “Single Market Enforcement Strategic Report” in 2021.