European geographical data at a very high price?

By EDRi · November 17, 2004

Advocates of open source tools that use geographical data (GIS) are
concerned about a new directive proposed by the European Commission on the
use of governmental geospatial data. The INSPIRE Directive, adopted by the
Commission in July 2004, aims to establish a spatial information
infrastructure in Europe. It covers 30 broad types of data, such as (the
location and the 3D descriptors of) buildings, forests, rivers, mountains,
transport networks, all kinds of territorial definitions (names,
postcodes, population and distribution of species) and all kinds of
environmental indicators, such as occurrence of epidemics, pollution etc.

Critics say the consultation process has been unrepresentative, and fear
that the proposed directive gives too much power to government data
collection and licensing agencies. They argue that the directive imposes
unnecessary costs and that the end result will benefit government
agencies, rather than citizens or the industry. Geographic data should be
made available free of licensing costs, they argue, for example to help
develop grassroots level campaigns and election monitoring enhanced with
geographic data and maps. Currently, in the UK for example, it costs
almost 3.000 euro per year to license a simple postcode look-up service.

Spatial data forms a core high-value part of the information produced by
the public sector. Though the proposed directive contains a non-prejudice
clause to Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of public sector information,
it seems to undermine its core principles. This 2003 Directive contains
rules on transparency, standard and non-exclusive licences, appeal
provisions, an upper limit for charging, etc. and is currently being
implemented by member states. In contrast, the INSPIRE Directive gives
responsibility to an expert group, together with Member States, to set a
common geospatial data licensing and cost policy and to provide e-commerce
services for ‘data availability’.

The rapporteur from the European Parliament for this Directive will be the
Belgian christian-democrat Mme Frederika Brepoels (EPP-ED), in the
Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. According to the
Legislative Observatory from the European Parliament, there will only be 1
reading by Parliament, and the Committee is expected to adopt its opinion
on 15 March 2005.


Critical analysis of the INSPIRE Directive

European Commission pages on public sector information

ePSINet, European Public Sector Information Network

(Thanks to Teresa Hackett, Ireland)