EU Data Act is causing friction

11 May 2023 | News

As negotiations on the EU plan to promote industrial data sharing continue, universities point to missed potential, while industry calls for a timeout. ‘We seem to be hurtling through the legislative process like a runaway train,’ says one lobby group  

Negotiations on the EU Data Act are picking up speed, with the second round of negotiations between the European Parliament and member states on the final details due to take place this month. But as things stand, few are happy with the plan to make industry share more of its data.

The Data Act, proposed by the European Commission last February, sets out the rules on who can access and use data generated by European businesses. Today, 80% of industrial data are under lock and key, causing the EU to lose out on its potential for reuse. According to Commission estimates, unlocking the data would give innovation a boost and promote technology sovereignty, while adding €270 billion to the bloc’s GDP by 2028.

Industry is complaining that policymakers are moving too fast and on Monday, the lobby group Digital Europe called for a pause and a rethink of the legislation in a letter sent to the European Commission and the Swedish presidency of the EU Council.

The current proposal poses risk to cybersecurity and competitiveness, the group says, and it’s being rushed at a time of economic turmoil. “At a time when businesses are struggling with high energy costs and inflation, imposing such far-reaching and rushed regulation will be shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, director general of Digital Europe.

“Let’s pause and reflect on whether this is really the right way forward for Europe’s competitiveness and innovation potential, and put the right protections in place to keep sensitive data secure,” Bonefeld-Dahl said.

The research community isn’t happy either. In March, universities said the legislation missed the opportunity to equip scientists with more data to work with. Parliament and members states have now introduced amendments to help researchers take advantage of easier access to data, but a group of universities and university libraries subsequently issued a statement saying they want policymakers to go further.

Julien Chicot, senior policy officer at the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, one of the signatories or the statement, says the main goal is to ensure the new rules don’t harm research and give scientists better access to industrial data.

One welcome amendment introduced by Parliament promises to ensure there’s no extortionate price tag attached the data. Unreasonable prices have been a problem in the past. “Sometimes the price is so high researchers de facto cannot get the data,” says Chicot.

Another key issue is the inclusion of personal data in the scope of the agreement. Parliament wants to exclude it to ensure privacy is respected, while the member states want it in. Universities are behind the member states on this one, especially when it comes to health data, where more comprehensive data enables better findings.

The member states are also seeking to introduce a provision that the Data Act must comply with existing national and EU regulations on research data. For universities, this amendment provides much-needed clarification and also “an avenue to further strengthen this area in the future,” the statement says.

Overall, while there’s still a lack of consideration for research data in the EU’s data legislation, universities are happy with the proposed changes to the text. “I would say it is a bit clearer for researchers, but we would’ve liked a more ambitious provision for research data purposes,” said Chicot.

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