Situation in Denmark for getting electronic data

Written 24. Nov 2009 by Nils Mulvad

1. After 7 year we this month got a proposal for a new law on FOI with good access to data and bad with new rules hiding the political process.
2. Organizing the work in Åbenhedstinget.
3. Good cooperation with local and regional authorities – hard fights with the central administration.
4. Especially hard fight on access to environmental data. They hide climatic data, dangerous business, swine production and use of medicine in farming.

I will present this handout on a conference in Utrecht November 27th and 28th. Look here for conference schedule. A part of the conference is a special section for wobbing in EU – gathering a lot of experienced journalists and media law experts in Freedom of Information. This is called wobbing in Belgium, and this word seems to spread as the term of getting information from authorities. Look also on this website.

Starting point
It all started in 1996 after a visit to US by Flemming Svith and me. We were inspired to use the same tactics as in US. To know the rules, to take a long perspective, fight for access in a professional way and under the guidance of law experts.
Besides we were always trying to make it no-big-deal to get the data, negotiating on a low level – often with the data experts, showing we have the knowledge to handle the data. In this process we used their failures and praised the quality of the data and what stories could be found in them.
Using this tactics we got data on parking fines, organ donation, and early retirement data.

Cooperation with authorities – list of mails
We also tried to make a process of experimenting with openness with authorities filling out the gray zone between rules of openness and secrets. A good example of that was a pilot project on online lists of in- and outgoing mail together with the regional authority in the Northern part of Jutland. In a collaboration between that authority, local media, press law experts and Dicar we formulated a practical proposal on how to do this. In all main area we agreed on the proposal. And when this will be reopened later, I’m sure the new project will grow on the shoulders of that project.

New structure from 2007
After the funding of Dicar stopped in 2006 we closed the center and established a network under Update, the professional training centre for journalist. The network has now been renamed to Åbenhedstinget. The idea is the still as with Dicar, just not having such a big funding.
Åbenhedstinget is collaborating with authorities. It has been served as a backing group of the professor at the Danish School of Media and Journalism Oluf Jørgensens work in the committee for new regulation on access. It was this committee that delivered a long report and a proposal for new law on FOI 11th of November 2009.
See the proposal and a lot of discussion. Text in Danish.

Public Sector Information
Some years ago EU implemented the directive of reuse of data from the public sector – called the PSI directive. My view on PSI is that this in general represent a good platform for demanding access to data on a low-cost level to provide medias and small business to use this data for services.
There might be some specific problems in the text, but the main problem is that in Denmark the Government has made a minimum implementation of the PSI and nothing has happened.
I have written about how the Government blocks this. And this is now discussed in EU – we might get some better rules. We’re also running a test-case in Denmark on payment for data according to these rules.
See the link to the case here. Text is in Danish.
I don’t think PSI could fund journalism, but the possibilities of using and repacking the data might inspire to good projects, which can be funded. But somebody might have good ideas on funding from PSI.
Old handouts in English
Handouts from the global investigative journalism network – first ones in Danish – rest in English.
The long road to gaining access to electronic information in Denmark. This handout is very important for getting more information on how we changed the environment for getting data in Denmark.
Tactical advices on Access to CAP data.

Access to environmental data
The basic situation is:
We have used this as a way to get a new general proposal for access to databases in Denmark.
We’re running a lot of test-cases, where this regulation is much better, but where the authorities try to regulate after FOI or other regulation. It’s really a hard process now.

Important examples:
Climate data (the level of the ground in the whole country). They claim this is hidden due to a private company having the copyright on the data. We claim that this will be necessary for knowing how higher water level and floods will affect the country and individual property and to control the measures from the authorities in this area. We have one the case at the Danish Ombudsman, but the ministry and state lawyer try to redo the rejecting of access. We have not got any data yet.

Dangerous business. We have around 120 in Denmark. There’s a special EU-directive on these business, named after Seveso. And in Denmark five years ago a production unit of fireworks exploded and burned down a whole area of houses. Argument for rejecting access to these data is fear of terrorism. It has been considered by the secret police and they have made a five pages long statement, saying we are not allowed to get a single tiny information. We have got information from some local authorities and we have made a map of the dangerous business, we know of (73 now). This case is handled by the Danish Ombudsman now.

Medicine in farming. This case has been running from years from one authority to another. We want data on the medicine used in each farm to check for risc of the spread of resistance. One of the arguments was we was not capable of understanding the data. Another one now is that this is personal information on the farmer. Now the case is handled by the Danish Ombudsman.

Animals in farming. Here we want the list of the actual number of animals and their placement. We have won the case at the Danish Ombudsman, and then the authority just start over demanding a lot of money for these data. We have built a screen scraper to extract the data and do this regularly. The Ombudsman has decided we have the right to make a scraper and run it, if it’s not too heavy a task.
Here the arguments from the authority were that scraping would take control over their data and server, make everything very slow and therefore not allowed. Another argument was that there was a business of selling these data and we should use this for getting the data, not having them from the authority.

From this webpage, you’ll find a description of all the cases and the most important documents in each case, but it’s in Danish.

Access application in general form of getting CAP-data using environmental regulation
. It’s in English.

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