Data sharing between public and private actors in the public interest

The New Institute | Jewgeni Roppel


Data sharing between public and private actors in the public interest

From the City of Hamburg to other European cities: A first (local) legal assessment towards a legal blueprint

In today's rapidly transforming economy and society, data has become the meta-utility with the potential to revolutionize how we work, live, and travel. Nowhere is this more evident than in cities, where a multitude of digital devices and sensors generate an abundance of data, encompassing almost every aspect of urban life. Despite this data treasure trove, its potential for public good has remained largely untapped, primarily due to data residing in private silos and scarce fair private-public sharing arrangements. This is problematic since data is a key element to creating more democratic and sustainable futures. Therefore, there needs to be a better understanding and, more importantly, a better framework for governing and sharing data in the public interest – and blueprints for how private-public data sharing can work.

Addressing this issue, The New Hanse investigates and tests next-generation data sharing agreements and governance models that facilitate Business-to-Government-to-Society (B2G2S) data sharing, which means the sharing of data between the private, public and third sectors at the city level. At the core of this initiative is the Urban Data Challenge Hamburg, facilitating the exchange of private and public micromobility data to drive green and sustainable innovation and enhance urban planning for the benefit of citizens. This experiment allows us to draw conclusions from hands-on testing to achieve the desired objective of data sharing for the public interest.

The challenge also serves as a practical experiment to explore and resolve the major policy, legal and technical building blocks needed for safe, secure, and responsible urban data sharing that can be adapted, replicated, and shared amongst other European cities, such as:

  • ‎‎‎‎‏‏‎What role should the city play in fostering private-public data sharing arrangements? Should the city be in the driving seat, by legally mandating data sharing for the public interest? Should the city act as facilitator, neutral data intermediary or provider of digital public infrastructures and financial investment?

  • How can we navigate the intricate landscape of local, federal, and EU laws and regulations to strike a balance between protecting individual rights and promoting data sharing for collective urban development? How do the piloted approaches relate to the data regulation underway at the EU level, especially in the area of B2G (Business-to-Government)?

  • ‎‎In pursuing data sharing in the public interest, what regulations, legal and technical tools, and incentives can be harnessed to encourage private entities to participate actively and contribute their data for the public interest?

We have asked legal scholar Max von Grafenstein of the Einstein Center Digital Future and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society to delve into these questions with a specific view on implications for the City of Hamburg, and other European cities. We have commissioned a preliminary legal assessment by taking an interdisciplinary data governance perspective. This report "The New Hanse: Data Sharing between public and private actors in the public interest", that was finalized end of 2022, outlines the intricate and ever-evolving landscape of privacy and business protection laws, local laws (such as the Hamburg Transparency Act or the Berlin Mobility Act), Member States laws (such as the German Federal Passengers Transportation Act), and EU laws (such as such as the EU Data Act).

At the heart of the argument presented, lies the need for the city to strategically design its data governance model making use of various data sharing rights and mechanisms (both voluntary and mandatory) to amplify the public value of data sharing. Furthermore, the report suggests the establishment of an independent data sharing intermediary to facilitate and monitor data sharing at the technical, organizational, and regulatory levels. Such an intermediary mitigates compliance risks, negotiates conflicts of interest, and trust issues, providing the essential structures for successful data sharing in the public interest. Setting up an independent data intermediary for the public interest will give citizens and cities more democratic control over their data, through the right to decide what uses of the information collected are legitimate, or under what circumstances it is produced and for what purposes. This way, data sharing can facilitate further innovation, better urban services, while guaranteeing the protection of data rights of citizens and a more dynamic and competitive digital ecosystem.

An intermediary that is independent of the City of Hamburg might be a more suitable choice [than the City in the role of an intermediary itself], not only because it is trustworthy from the point of view of all parties involved due to its independence, but above all because it seems to have the better organizational capabilities to install and operate the necessary structures and procedures in a scalable and, therefore, cost-effective manner,” argues Max von Grafenstein.

This idea of an independent data intermediary has found resonance in the ongoing work of the Data Commons Working Group, composed of renowned international data and digital experts. It is set to become a cornerstone of the forthcoming blueprints for data sharing for the public interest, that is the main output of the New Hanse project.

In the meantime, this report provides you with valuable insights into the role of an independent data intermediary, its relationship with local, federal, and EU laws, and the ways in which it can effectively surmount key obstacles to data sharing for the public interest in Hamburg and beyond.

Data, when democratically controlled, can enable cities and Europe to transform its economy and society for the better. In the context of the twin digital and ecological transition, a form of democratic data governance that enables cities to put data and digital infrastructure at the service of citizens to tackle the great challenges of our time, is more urgent than ever.


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