Public-sector Information Germany Opens to Open Data

Policymakers in Berlin have agreed to move on legislation to make data from local, state and federal authorities publicly available. The proposal could help feed startups and other companies with valuable data for a variety of applications.
Germany startups want to plug into authorities' rich databases.

In the run-up to Germany's federal elections next year, decisions on key policies have been grinding nearly to halt. But there are exceptions: An expert parliamentarian working group late Wednesday cleared the way for a new open data law that would make vast volumes of data compiled in the government sector available to the public.

“We have achieved a breakthrough,” said Sören Bartol, a deputy chairwoman of the left-of-center Social Democratic Party parliamentary group, told Handelsblatt. “There will be an open data law in this legislative period.”

With that, Germany is following in the footsteps of other countries that see more value in making public-sector data available to the public than keeping it stored – and often forgotten – in local, state and federal government databases.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziére is to submit a draft bill to German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, by September 21 ahead of the federal elections later in 2017.

If approved, it would mark a major shift in policy for Germany, which has some of the most restrictive data privacy laws in the world.

We have achieved a breakthrough. There will be an open data law in this legislative period. Sören Bartol, Deputy Chairman SPD parliamentary group

“We had to do a lot of persuading,” Jens Koeppen, a CDU parliamentarian told Handelsblatt. A critical issue raised throughout the discussions, he said, was data protection.

Germany ranks 26th in the Global Data Index, which is led by Taiwan, followed by Great Britain. British Prime Minister David Cameron had made open data a top priority of his government. Following his announced resignation after Britain voted last month to leave the European Union, it remains to be seen whether open data will remain a priority with his successor.

Several U.S. cities, including Boston, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle, have been aggressive about opening up their data and developing so-called application program interfaces, or APIs. These interfaces allow others to use, republish and repurpose information with no copyright and patent restrictions.

In Europe, for instance, the city of Barcelona has developed and published APIs across government departments that include transit, environment, land use and business data. The city also has created an open source infrastructure platform that uses APIs to access sensor data that monitors temperature and air quality, garbage collection, parking and pedestrian flows.

German Internet startups are keen to turn the wealth of statistics and information stowed away in government data into recreation, mobility, real estate apps and more. A study conducted by a think tank linked to the Christrian Democratic party estimated the potential value of apps using information compiled by authorities at up to €130 million ($144 million) per year and believes as many as 20,000 additional jobs could result from the move.

Under the proposed open data legislation in Germany, public authorities are to proactively provide similar transit, weather and business data.

“We want authorities to take the initiative and offer as much data as they possibly can,” said Nadine Schön, deputy chairwoman of center-right Christian Democratic-Christian Social Union parliamentary group.

In principle, most data held by public authorities is to be accessible, with few exceptions. The use of the data is to be free of copyright and patent restrictions, presented in a standardized format that can be read by humans and machines.

The federal government’s existing GovData platform is to be expanded and overhauled to make it more user friendly. All of Germany’s 16 states already feed data to the platform.

There are also plans to establish a “Federal Open Data Bureau,” where the general public and businesses can receive advice.


Danieal Delhaes reports on politics from Berlin. John Blau is a senior editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: [email protected] and [email protected]