The public sector information directive
The implementation of e-Government has led to an increase in information and especially digitally born information, which puts new demands on information and records management practices (The International Records Management Trust, 2004). Central to transparent government is access to information by the general public and the media (Bohlin, 2010; Regeringskansliet, 2009). It is argued in the European Access to Official Documents Guide that: “The basic principle is that a broad right of access to official documents should be granted on the basis of equality and in application of clear rules, whilst refusal of access should be the exception and must be duly justified. It is not a question of recognizing merely the freedom of the public to have access to information which the authorities wish to give them, but rather to secure a genuine ‘right to know’ for the public. States must ensure, with due regard for certain rules, that anyone may, upon request, have access to documents held by public authorities” (Directorate General of Human Rights, 2004, p. 6). Therefore, one of the most important instruments of citizens’ control of public authorities is the principle of public access to government information.
As government institutions engage in e-Government development and hence use information technology, they are generating lots of information hereto referred to as the Public Sector Information (PSI). The United Kingdom’s Office of Public Sector Information stated that, “Information, particularly PSI, is at the head of the citizen’s relationship with government and the public sector” (Office of Public Sector Information, 2009, p. 18). Government information is currently looked upon as a “gold mine” that should be explored by various stakeholders to boost national development through the creation of electronic services. The PSI is regulated by the European PSI Directive on repurposing of public information that was enacted in December 2003 and was to be implemented in the member states by July 2005. The Directive focuses on the economic aspects of public information reuse (European Union, 2003). For example, Fornefeld, Boele-Keimer, Recher, and Fanning (2009) argued that in most European public administrations making information available to the private sector is an indication of a cultural change. They further argued that previously, the private sector has had to purchase government information. According to a report published by the European Commission (European Commission, n.d.), PSI is crucial to the well-functioning of the internal market, free circulation of goods, services, and people.
This new data that is being referred to as “open data” and “big data” is characterized by volume, velocity, and variety (Ballad et al., 2014). Its innovative and transformational power hinge on its quality which can only be achieved through information governance. Lundqvist (2013a) was of the view that European wide markets derived from PSI have been estimated at a turnover of 30 billion Euros per year. The PSI can be defined “as any kind of information that is produced and/or collected by a public body and it is part of the institution’s mandated role” (Dragos & Neamtu, 2009, p. 4). The PSI, e.g., constitutes data in geographical information systems, land registry, public weather services, and other types of information that are created by public administrations. The Directive even covers written texts, databases, audio files, and film fragments (The European Union, 2003). Access to PSI is meant to stimulate the development of information markets and to improve the quality of e-Government services. However, this data does not only offer opportunities, but also poses risks to organizations because it is gathered from different sources which can complicate the trace of its provenance. Further, it is big volume and flows at a speed which makes it difficult to be subjected to human review. It also offers an opportunity for correlation with other datasets which means that it can be used for different purposes, and even for criminal purposes which could be detrimental for organizations (Ballad et al., 2014).
The Swedish e-Government Delegation’s report, e.g., emphasized the effective management of information in the development of the third generation e-Government. The third generation e-Government aims to develop a demand driven e-Government that also considers the society around it, that is, the citizens and private companies. They are looked upon as capable e-Government co-developers with the capability to use government information to develop new services and hence increase the innovation and development potential of the society at large. The management of information, therefore, ought to be coordinated to reduce the administrative burden and to make it easily accessible in order to facilitate business transactions (Finansdepartmenetet, 2009:86). Research that was carried out in two Swedish municipalities however confirmed that as e-Government development projects are undertaken to improve service delivery, information management is not usually at the center of these projects. This is paradoxical because effective processes require good quality information and the reuse of information requires that government organizations put in place long-term preservation strategies to guarantee access to their information resources for current and future users (Svard, 2010, 2014). The plu- ralization of government information resources will require a holistic approach that entails managing the information continuum if information is to be repurposed. The PSI is a good example of how information created to conduct government business can be made available to other actors to develop new services.