As it is known, the public sector collects large amounts of information in the exercise of its statutory functions in a wide range of fields: social, political, economic, legal, geographical, environmental, meteorological, road traffic, tourism, business patents, education, and others. Such data is used by public sector institutions and bodies solely for the exercise of their functions and under the new legal regulation such data is open to the public.
There is no doubt that access to such a pool of information resources is not only attractive but also beneficial for the public and for business. The opening of data will lead to new ways of using the information resulting in innovative products and services that are more responsive to the needs of the public, as well as to more transparent public sector work and more efficient use of data.
What is the legal basis for data opening? Data opening is carried out in accordance with the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on the Right to Obtain Information from State and Municipal Institutions and Agencies, which was amended and renamed as the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on the Right to Access Information and Reuse of Data (hereinafter – the Law) on 17 July 2021 in implementing Directive (EU) 2019/1024 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on open data and the re-use of public sector information (hereinafter – the Directive). The purpose of the Law is to regulate the access and use of the data held by the public sector for private individuals. The Law provides that open data may be used by any person for any purpose, provided that the original data source is indicated.
Who is required by the Law to open data to the public? The open data requirement applies to all state and municipal authorities and to the entities controlled by the state and municipalities, in particular: (1) state authorities and institutions; (2) municipal authorities and institutions; (3) bodies performing public functions; and (4) companies where 50% or more of the shares are held by the state or municipalities.
What are the exceptions to the Law? There are, of course, exceptions meaning that not all the data used by the public sector is open for access. The Law includes a list of data excluded from the open data requirement: (1) data which is not within the public function of the institution, except for salary information; (2) data to which third parties have intellectual property rights; (3) data the disclosure of which is prohibited or restricted by law, e.g. confidential data of a state, official, banking, commercial or professional secret, personal data; (4) data consisting solely of logos, ornaments and/or emblems; and (5) other data provided for in Article 2(2) of the Law.
How can such data be collected? The conditional collection of data that was in place before data opening was inconvenient for individual users. It was possible to obtain information from the public sector, however, data had to be collected from different public sector bodies where information was provided in different formats and according to different rules, also subject to a fee for the data obtained, if requested by the relevant body. The situation has been changing and the implementation of the Directive has created a user-friendly mechanism and tool for accessing data.
In order to foster innovation, the Directive obliges the Member States of the European Union to make efforts to establish a single point of access to data. It is delightful that the implementation of the Directive in Lithuania has led to the opening of the Lithuanian Open Data Portal (https://data.gov.lt), which hosts and makes available free of charge structured public sector datasets to interested persons.
The Lithuanian Open Data Portal is continuously supplemented and updated, and currently contains more than 1600 datasets from 138 organisations. Using the portal, we can select data of interest both about individual organisations (state and municipal enterprises, institutions, etc.) and by topics of interest –energy, environment, culture, health care, etc. It should be noted that the Open Data Portal not only provides access to data already submitted, but also allows the registration of information about the need for data (which has not been published).
The Lithuanian Open Data Portal hosts an increasing amount of open data submitted by public sector entities. The growing interest in this innovation is demonstrated by the fact that, in the last two years, 10,000 unique users have downloaded various datasets more than 250,000 times. According to statistical surveys, opening up public data could generate between 0.4% and 1.5% of gross domestic product, which would mean between €200 million and €750 million of additional budget revenue for Lithuania.
Open data is mainly driven by the demand for data and the actual use of the Open Data Portal, therefore, it is expected that the information made public by both public authorities and others will increase the visibility and popularity of the Open Data Portal.
In order to interconnect the centralised data points of all the Member States of the European Union, a portal for open data of the European Union (https://data.europa.eu/lt) has been set up to host not only the data published by Lithuania, but also by other Member States of the European Union.
It is encouraging to note that, at the end of 2021, the annual report of the Portal for European Data ranked Lithuania in the top ten in the area of open-data portal and the fourteenth out of 34 countries according to general results – among the „fast-trackers“ which include countries such as Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and others. By opening up more and more data, Lithuania is becoming more attractive not only for domestic but also for foreign investment, increasing its commercial potential.