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A new chapter of our series of articles on how to make a request in the EU member states: the situation in Finland.

Legal framework

The prodrome of the opening of government information in Finland is dated 1999 when the Act on the Openness of Government Activities (621/1999) was promulgated. Furthermore, a separate Decree on the Openness of Government Activities and on Good Practice in Information Management provided guidelines for government officials working with information management and FOI issues.

However the development of an open policy received a boost in 2011 when the Finnish government announced a proposal for a decision on the availability of digital data in public administration that stated that the datasets must be openly available and reusable on unified, clear and equal terms, free of charge.
The first significant national datasets were opened in May 2012 when the National Land Survey opened its terrain data. In 2016, Decree of the Ministry of Finance (607/2016) on the provision of some common electronic support services for the administration established that an open information and interoperability web service should be created; shortly followed the publication of the national open data portal Avoindata.fi.

 

 A useful resource of the Avoindata.fi portal is the Open Data Guide, which contains instructions, tips and other hints to consider when applying data, whether you are a re-user, a data provider or a software developer.

 

Always in 2016, the government approved a proposal of the Ministry of Transport and Communications to increase the utilization of large data sets in business.

In 2017, at the Digital North conference, the ministers from the Nordic and Baltic regions signed a declaration to integrate their digitalization efforts in order to support the free movement of data and to put in place the EU digital single market in the Nordic-Baltic region.

In the meantime, another important initiative took place in the Helsinki Region: the Helsinki Region Infoshare (HRI) service, published in March 2011, which is a web portal for a fast and easy access to open data sources between the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen. It also provides a form to make data requests; here you can find all the requests received since 2012.

As for the science data, the AVAA platform for publishing open research data deserves a mention.

In practice

Although there is no official centralized service to which re-use requests of data not yet publicly available can be addressed and apart from the above-mentioned HRI service, you can leverage several initiatives at city and region level.

 

The Oulu City Data Portal includes 83 downloadable datasets divided into 12 categories. and provides a form to send data requests.

Also the city of Tampere offers its portal: tampere.fi contains 114 datasets divided into the same categories as above and provides this form.

Both portals share the same appearance and functionality. As for the management of the data requests, they undertake, where possible, to have the requests delivered to the data owner.


Lounaistieto
is a regional information service regarding Southwest Finland with open datasets, statistics and a rich map service; there is no specific form for data requests but you can use the contact page to ask support.

The six cities behind DataBusiness.fi (Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Turku and Oulu) are collectively opening their data resources as widely as possible to create a collaborative working environment for producers and utilisers of data. They offer free business and development services including education and training, academic collaboration etc. Use their contact page to ask support.

The avoindata.net platform is a question & answer website that you can use for your data requests (through this form). Although it might be similar other free services around Europe, like whatdotheyknow.com, fragdenstaat.de, Data.overheid.nl etc., it does not redirect your request to the public sector body concerned but you can anyway receive useful tips from the community.

As a general rule, to address a re-use request to a Finnish public sector body, it is worth to have a look at its website; sometimes you can download a module to be compiled and sent to the mail address indicated. An example here.

In the other cases, you have to create the request following the basic rules written in the Act on the Openness of Government Activities, Section 13, Requesting a document:
  - the request must clearly indicate which documents are needed.
  - The person requesting the information does not need to clarify his identity or justify his request unless this is necessary for the exercise of the discretionary power of the authority or to ascertain whether the applicant has the right to be informed of the content of the document.

Afterwards,  you can send the request directly to the public sector body or let PSI Monitor do it for you: register to psimonitor.eu, click on add your request and fill the form.

The PSI Directive is a legal instrument allowing for the implementation of a horizontal policy that aims to facilitate the re-use of public sector information. However, it is not the only one. There are other directives, regulations and proposals for regulation which provide rules for the re-use of information in specific sectors. One of them regards the multimodal infomobility.

EU-wide multimodal infomobility

In the framework of the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) across Europe,  the main reference for which is the ITS Directive (Directive 2010/40/EU), an important role is played by multimodal infomobility. When passengers have to combine different transport modes to reach a destination, they face difficulties such as route planning, ticketing and payments.

Over the years, the European Commission has integrated the ITS Directive with some delegated acts dealing with specific aspects of infomobility:

Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 305/2013  about the interoperable EU-wide eCall,

 Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 885/2013  about safe and secure truck parking,

 Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 886/2013  about road safety-related minimum universal traffic information,

 Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 962/2015  about road and traffic data by road authorities,

Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 2017/1926  about EU-wide multimodal travel information services.

 

In particular, Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 2017/1926 foresees that by 1 December 2019 the EU Member States will have to communicate to the European Commission the actions put in place to set up the national access points to multimodal infomobility and the modalities of their functioning.

 These national access points have to constitute a single point of access for users to the static travel and traffic data and historic traffic data of different transport modes. The provision of dynamic real-time travel and traffic data is left as an option.

 

Consequently, travel and traffic data provided by the national access points have to be considered reusable open data. The conditions for the reuse are described in article 8 point 1 and 4.
In short, they shall be accurate and up to date, accessible for re-use on a non-discriminatory basis and may be subject to a license agreement provided that the restrictions are minimal and the costs reasonable.

ARTICLE 8 of the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 2017/1926  

The travel and traffic data listed in the Annex and the corresponding metadata including information on the quality thereof shall be accessible for exchange and reuse within the Union on a non-discriminatory basis, through the national or common access point and within a time-frame that ensures the timely provision of travel information services. They shall be accurate and up to date. [Point 1]

The terms and conditions for the use of the traffic and travel data provided through the national access point may be determined through a licence agreement. Those conditions shall not unnecessarily restrict possibilities for reuse or be used to restrict competition. Licence agreements, whenever used, shall in any event impose as few restrictions on reuse as possible. Any financial compensation shall be reasonable and proportionate to the legitimate costs incurred of providing and disseminating the relevant travel and traffic data. [Point 4]

What are the travel and traffic data?

Traffic and travel information is everything that allows a traveller to obtain door-to-door information for well-informed travel decisions (pre-trip) as well as information during the journey (on-trip). Annex I of the Delegated Regulation provides for three levels of service.

 

Level of service 1, which shall be set up within 1 December 2019, includes static travel data as shown in the table.

 
 
 
 

Level services 2 and 3 have to be accomplished by 2020 and 2021.

 

New opportunities for the re-users

Re-users can play a productive role in the development of a traveller information service at European, national and local level. These opportunities are interesting and the legal framework to support them is in place.

The PSI Directive provides the general framework for the conditions governing re-use of public sector documents in order to ensure fair, proportionate and non-discriminatory conditions for the re-use of such information whereas article 8 of 2017/1926 Delegated Regulation of 31 May 2017 reinforces the concepts of the multimodal mobility information.

The availability of public data on mobility, traffic and transport will surely bring new business opportunities to light but they will have to be in line with the public urban mobility policy; this is why the Delegated Regulation allows the use of Licence agreements for the mobility data.

Possible applications and services may vary from the assessment and improvement of the quality of the infomobility data to the evaluation of the efficiency of the activities of the operators, from the comparison of fare data to integrated ticketing, from the analysis of historic data to the prevention of accidents and so on.

Where we are?

The process of setting up of the National Access Points is progressing at different speeds depending on the country. According to the official list:

20 countries have already set up their RTTI National Access Points as required by Delegated Regulation 962/2015 (where RTTI stands for Real-time traffic information);

8 countries have set up their MMTIS National Access Points as required by Delegated Regulation 1926/2017 (where MMTIS stands for multi modal information services).

This means that there are still many barriers to be overcome.

 

Photo by Oscar Sutton on Unsplash

 

In our travel around Europe to deepen how the rights to access and re-use of public sector information work, we have discovered that several countries have adopted peculiar systems that regulate the way in which the citizens can communicate digitally with the public sector bodies.

In other words, we have found that often the re-users have to use special emails and/or authenticate themselves using an electronic ID in order to send their PSI requests to the public sector bodies.

This is the case of Italy where citizens and enterprises have the obligation to use a certificated email (Posta elettronica certificata, PEC) to communicate with public administrations;  also  in Spain you have to go through a centralized authentication system (cl@ve) and provide your eID to communicate with a public administration. Other countries use a similar approach.

Although the adoption of new technologies to improve efficiency and optimal use of the resources is appreciated, it has also some side effects.

The main issue is the lack of interoperability between systems of different countries with the result that, for instance, may be difficult for a Polish re-user to get formally in touch with a col-md-ish public sector body.

To overcome this, on 23 July 2014 Regulation (EU) n. 910/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council was introduced. It is commonly known as “eIDAS-Regulation” where eIDAS stands for “electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services”.

 

The eIDAS Regulation provides a uniform and standardized legal framework for the acceptance of electronic signatures and identities.

Among other things, It foresees the mutual recognition of the electronic identification systems; the Member States may notify their eID system so that it can be recognised by other Member States after an in-depth peer-review process.

It has been fully in force since 1st July 2016. On 29th September 2018 the cross-border recognition of notified electronic identification systems (eID) has been started. The first Member States to complete the notification process are Italy and Germany, others, such as Spain, Estonia, Croatia etc., are following.

 

 An overview of the current state of the process is available on the CEF Digital Connecting Europe website.

 

Some leading European associations, projects and expert organisations in the sector of eID and trust have recently launched the go.eIDAS initiative to promote eIDAS in Europe and beyond.

 

This time we are in Belgium. The legal framework is affected by the federal nature of the country: a proliferation of laws in three different languages that makes it difficult for re-users to find the right way to make a request, especially if they are not local.

Legal framework

Belgium is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. It is divided into three autonomous regions: Flanders in the north, Wallonia in the south, and the Brussels-Capital Region. Further to that, there are three communities (French, Flemish and German). Each of these entities has its own legislative and executive powers.

Access to information

The principle of access to information was introduced for the first time in 1991 by the federated parliament of Flanders (Decree of 23 October 1991 concerning access to administrative documents within the institutions of the Flemish government).

The constitutional reform of 1993 incorporated the right of access to administrative documents in article 32 but under the condition that federal or regional laws can establish specific rules on the matter. This condition was the natural consequence of the division of power rules within the constitutional framework.
As a result, the Federal Act of 11 April 1994 concerning access to administrative documents was complemented over the years by the legislation of the autonomous Regions. Although they generally kept its general structure, there is the exception of the aforementioned Flemish Decree of 23 October 1991.

Here below a non-exhaustive list of the laws actually in force regarding access to public information.

Federal measures:

  • Federal law of 11 April 1994 relating to access to government information;
  • Federal law of 5 August 2006 on public access to environmental information;
  • Federal law of 21 December 2013 to enhance the transparency, independency and credibility of decisions and opinions in the field of health insurance, the health, the safety of the food chain and the environment (Belgian OJ 20 February 2014);

 Brussels-Capital Region

  • Ordinance of the Council of the Brussels Region of 30 March 1995 on access government information;
  • Ordinance of the Council of the Brussels Region of 18 March 2004 on access to environmental information;
  • Ruling of 12 January 2006 concerning the transparency of the remunerations and benefits of the Brussels public officials (Belgian OJ 1 February 2006);

Flanders Region

  • Decree of 26 March 2004 relating to access to government information;
  • Decree of 22 November 2013 concerning good governance in the Flemish public sector (OJ 9 January 2014);

Walloon Region

  • Decree of the of 30 March 1995 relating to access to government information;
  • Decree of 7 April 2011 concerning good governance in the execution of public mandates (OJ 5 May 2011).

French community

Decree of the French community of 31 March 2011 concerning the board in the implementation of the government mandates with the Government agencies and within the Government derived entities (OJ 24 May 2011)

French community Commission of the Brussels Region

Decree of 24 April 2014 concerning governance and transparency in the execution of public mandates (OJ 19 January 2015)

 

Re-use of information

When it comes to the right to re-use of information, the legislative framework appears also complex. There are several Federal measures, which are overlapped by laws issued by the Regions and Communities. Here below the main references.

Federal measures:

  • Law on re-use of public sector information of 4 May 2016, Moniteur Belge, 03/06/2016, p. 34149, Original bilingual version (FR/NL)
  • Royal decree establishing the procedure and deadlines for processing applications for re-use of public sector information and monitoring requirements for the provision of administrative documents of 29/10/2007, Moniteur Belge, 06/11/2007, p. 56338-56341 Original bilingual version (FR/NL)
  •  Royal decree on the composition and functioning of the Commission for access to and re-use of administrative records of 29/04/2008, Moniteur Belge, 08/05/2008, p. 24362-24368 Original bilingual version (FR, NL)

Brussels-Capital Region

Order transposing the Directive on the re-use of public sector information of 6/03/2008, Moniteur Belge du 08/04/2008, p. 18703-18707 Bilingual version FR/NL

 Ordinance on the establishment of an open data policy and transposing Directive 2013/37/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 amending Directive 2003/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 November 2003 on the re-use of public sector information, Moniteur Belge du 10/11/2016, p. 74728 - Bilingual version FR/NL

Flanders Region

  • Decree on the re-use of public sector information of 27/04/2007 Moniteur Belge, 05/11/2007, p. 56250-56256 Original bilingual version (NL, FR)
  • Decree amending the decree of 27 April 2007 on the re-use of public sector information and the decree of 18 July 2008 on the electronic exchange of administrative information of 12 June 2015, Moniteur Belge 30 June 2015, p. 37664 - original bilingual version (NL, FR)
  • Decision of the Flemish Government on the reuse of public sector within the Flemish ministries and agencies of 19/07/2007, Moniteur Belge, 05/11/2007, p. 56256-56257 Original bilanguage version (FR/NL)
  • Decree of the Flemish Government establishing the professional body for public access and reuse of public sector of 19/07/2007 Moniteur Belge du 05/11/2007, p. 56257-56261 Original bilanguage version (FR/NL)
  • Ministerial decision establishing the licensing model for re-use of public sector information of 8/10/2007, Moniteur Belge du 05/11/2007, p. 56277-56281 Original language version; EN translation
  •  Appellate Body on public access and re-use of public information of 8/10/2007, Moniteur Belge du 05/11/2007, p. 56282-56282 Original language version - EN translation

Walloon Region

Joint decree by the Walloon Region and the French community on the re-use of public sector information and on the establishment of an Open Data policy of 19 July 2017, Moniteur Belge of 13/09/2017, p. 83586, Original language version

The French community

Joint decree by the Walloon Region and the French community on the re-use of public sector information and on the establishment of an Open Data policy of 19 July 2017, Moniteur Belge of 13/09/2017, p. 83586, Original language version

The German community


The Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (CADA)

As in France and Portugal, also in Belgium there is a special commission that collects and decides on appeals against refusals to provide administrative documents by a public sector body or other problems that might raise during the processing of access/re-use requests.

The multitude of entities with their own legislative and executive powers has led to the multiplication of commissions; in fact, we have:


In practice

It is indeed rather difficult for re-users to deal with the jungle of laws listed above. What to do then? Fortunately, there is a website that can help in making requests.

 

Transparencia.be is a website similar to whatdotheyknow.com. You can browse the repository to find similar requests to the one you plan to make or to find a public sector body you think might have the information. It also provides you with a form to make requests as shown in the image below. You simply have to insert the title of the request and a description. Pay attention to the fact that no references to laws are automatically added to the request and it is up to you eventually find the right law article to mention.

 

As usual if you want that your request appear also in the repository of PSI Monitor, just add the tag #psimonitor at the end of the description otherwise you would have to add it manually. This action would ensure a wider exposure of your request at European level and that might contribute to a successful conclusion of the application.

How things work in Portugal? Despite the fact that Portugal appears in the middle positioned “Followers” level of the Open Data Maturity index, the last legislation developments in this matter seem comprehensive and designed using a practical approach.

 Legislative framework

Law 65/93 of 26 August was the first attempt to regulate the access to administrative documents. It was amended two times before being revoked by Law no. 46/2007 of 24 August, which transposed Directive 2003/98 on the re-use of public sector information.

In the meantime, the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, dated 1997, in Article 268 established the right to access to administrative archives.

The cost of reproduction of administrative documents requested by citizens in the exercise of their right of access was set by Despacho n. 8617/2002 (2° série) of the Minister of Finance. It is curious to see how the costs were detailed:

These details reveal the practice perspective with which Portuguese regulations are formulated.

The current legislation in force is Law n. 26/2016 of 22 August, which transposes Directive 2003/98/ EC 98 on the re-use of public sector information as amended by Directive 2013/37/EU.

Law 26/2016 in details

Contrary to the regulatory framework of some other European countries, Law n. 26/2016 of 22 August combines in a single text both the rights of access to information and re-use of information. However, this not lead to confusion. The text is clear, detailed and tailored for a practical application.

It defines as a general principle in article 19 that:
The administrative documents to which access may be authorised under this Law may be re-used.

Interestingly, the Law defines an organisational schema for managing the access and re-use requests similar to the one in French (see last part of our article here).

From one side the public sector bodies shall appoint a person who takes care of the obligations on the active disclosure of information and monitors the processing of requests for access and re-use (article 9 – Responsibility for access) and on the other side a Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (Comissão de Acesso aos Documentos Administrativos), also known with the acronym CADA, is foreseen.

 

These two entities are very similar to the PRADA (Personne Responsable de l’Accès aux Documents Administratifs et des questions relatives à la réutilisation des informations publiques) and CADA (Commission d’accès aux documents administratifs) defined in the French legislation.

As for the access and/or re-use requests, Law n. 26/2016 defines a number of obligations on public sector bodies.

- They shall publish on their web site, the e-mail address, place and timetable for face to face consultation, application form or other appropriate means through which requests for access and re-use of the information and documents covered by the law may be sent.

- They shall respond to the requests within 10 days either producing the documents requested, or communicating the reasons for total or partial denial of access to the documents, or forwarding the request to the public sector body, which has the documents and informing the applicant of this fact.

The conditions governing the re-use are described in the eight points forming article 23; in particular, documents made available through Internet are free to re-use; the same with regards to documents made available for educational or research and development purposes. More in general, the feeds that the public sector bodies may charge for re-use shall be limited to the marginal costs.

 The Law also states the right of compliant and the right of access to environmental information. The first defines that the applicant can complain to the CADA in the case of a lack of response, refusal, and partial satisfaction of the request or other decision, which limits access to administrative documents, within 20 days. The latter states that lists with the names of all the bodies and entities which hold environmental information shall be made public available through preferably a single website and that procedures to ensure the standardisation of environmental information shall be put in place.

In practice

The main reference for re-users of Portuguese open data is the “Portal de dados abertos da Administrativa Pùblica”, dados.gov.pt , which contains the datasets published by the public sector bodies. In case the data you want are not included in these datasets, you have to request the data directly to the public sector body owner of the data. Unfortunately there is no a free service that helps you in this task. In the past, there was the site nosqueremossaber.org, but it is no longer running.

What to do then?

The first obstacle is to find the right public sector body to whom address the request. One source is the Portal Nacional, where you can find a list of the public sector bodies and their websites. Another strategy is to look at the list of the decisions concerning complaints on the website of CADA.

Once you have identified the public sector body, which is likely to have the data you want, you have to find on its website the references to e-mail address, application form or other appropriate means to submit a re-use request.

Here below some examples:

Entidade Reguladora da Saúde (ERS)

Direção-Geral da Política de Justiça (DGPJ)

The University Hospital Center of São João (CHUSJ)

Due to the lack of free web services like those in The NetherlandsAustria, Germany etc., there is no way to consult lists of requests made by other re-users. That means that it is not possible to automatically grab the requests and add them to the PSI Monitor repository.

Hence, if you want your request listed also in the PSI Monitor, you have to add it manually. This action would ensure a wider exposure of your request at European level and that might contribute to a successful conclusion of the application.

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