Recommendations prepared for the EU regarding open data and European citizens' initiatives
On 18 - 19 February in Riga representatives of eighteen EU member states prepared recommendations for data usage improvement and European citizens' initiative development at the conference and discussion "Open Europe: Open Data for Open Society." The events were held by the Latvian Open Technology Association, Providus Centre for Public Policy, the public involvement platform Manabalss.lv.
The conference and the discussion gathered more than 200 people who shared the experiences of their countries regarding data usage, privacy protection, and safety issues, as well as citizens' initiatives and e-petitions. The outcome of the discussions was recommendations for EU-level documents, including the European citizens' initiative.
The discussion about open data lead to conclusions that open data is a tool government bodies can use to stimulate data economy and economic growth. Open data is a public resource, and the theory of economics establishes that the state shall facilitate maximum availability of such products in the interests of the society. Otherwise, the products will not be available to the society in the free market in the optimum volume.
"On the way to data economy, it is important not to forget about privacy and personal data protection, which is where Europe has been a global leader historically. It is necessary to assure that companies and government institutions themselves are interested in developing safe and privacy-respecting products and services.
An example is the initiative regarding the product cyber-security and cyber-privacy “signal light”. Currently, most people do not read the long legal statements regarding data protection before they install a new application in their telephone or computer. The security (incl. privacy) “signal light” would serve as a visual signal for the individual regarding what to expect from the particular application and intuitively encourage opting for “greener”, i.e., more secure products. This would motivate companies to develop more secure products,” explains one of the discussion moderators, LATA Board member Aigars Jaundālders.
In the part of the discussion devoted to European citizens' initiatives, which is an opportunity for one million EU citizens to offer their suggestions which will then be put on the agenda of the European Commission, it was concluded that there have been very low numbers of such initiatives until now. Signatures for only three initiatives are currently being gathered in parallel, while only two initiatives have been put on the agenda of the European Commission since 2012.
"We have been trying to understand in the discussion why there is no much interest regarding the initiatives of European citizens. For this purpose, we assembled the best e-petition tool experts from the countries in which the citizens are entitled to determine the agenda of their national parliaments and where the citizens willingly use this opportunity. Based on reviews of the best practice in Switzerland, Latvia, Finland, and the United Kingdom, we have concluded that there are comparatively greater obstacles in the EU for the submission of the initiatives, such as more stringent requirements for the content of the initiatives, certification of signatures, and data protection. For EU citizens to involve more actively in the work of the EU, it is necessary to mitigate the high security requirements and make the web site used for gathering signatures more user-friendly,” says Iveta Kažoka, discussion moderator and researcher of Providus Centre for Public Policy.
The conference and the discussion were held as part of the events of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU. The event were financed by the State of Latvia. The event were supported by DPA and IBM.
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