Inspired’ by regulation, confrontation and confusion

Inspired’ by regulation, confrontation and confusion

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Michael Blakemore
Director
Info-Dynamics Research Associates Ltd., UK
[email protected]
INSPIRE is about the regulation of national GI, but does not address specifically the cultural aspects of GI, such as ownership, use, or positioning GI within the national information framework. Ironically, the semantic and cultural differences within the European Union present a huge opportunity for the EU to lead globally on semantic interoperability, whereas INSPIRE continues a focus on achieving homogeneity

So, Europe is to be ‘Inspired’ at last (Europe 2004b). Since the draft Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe (INSPIRE) Directive was published in July 2004, the Geographic Information (GI) forums have been replete with debate, demand for rights of access, and vested opinions of GI data producers, in particular the national mapping agencies (NMAs). This is not surprising. Any new regulatory directive results in passionate debates. Debates will exist where the legislation has been created as a ‘control’, rather than as an ‘enabling’ mechanism (Craglia and Blakemore 2004). By this we mean that INSPIRE is placing obligations on GI data producers that are not of their making, and INSPIRE is now stimulating many, who had no direct opportunity to influence the formulation of the legislation, to comment.

In parliamentary language, we regard the INSPIRE draft Directive as now entering what is called the ‘committee stage’ where a detailed scrutiny of every clause takes place. There is little logic in implementing a regulation that causes such disruption to the GI landscape that GI producers are damaged. Furthermore, INSPIRE is a political statement, currently lacking an analysis as to whether it presents a viable funding plan for high quality pan-European GI.

For some, the task of achieving a pan-European infrastructure of GI may seem to be well underway, given the long history of debate on access to environmental information from 1990 onwards (Europe 1990) and EU Member State ratification of the UNECE Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information (Aarhus 1998). This draft Directive may give users a big stick with which to beat the GI data producers, notably those that are reluctant to disseminate their data, and especially those who aggressively charge for GI and protect their IPR. Opening access to GI is seen by many as justified because of alleged success of the US model for freedom of access to, and uncontrolled exploitation of, government information (including GI). The presumption is that this capability has led to a plethora of new products and services that benefit businesses, government and citizens, underpinned by geospatial data already paid for by the US taxpayer.

INSPIRE therefore risks stimulating confrontation between users and producers in the context of ‘rights’ of access to Public Sector Information (PSI), rather than providing a framework for building viable strategic partnerships. For GI producers, the task is now to understand how this proposed EU Directive will impact on their strategic and business plans, for the EU is a form of regulatory State where Directives produce external influences on national and organisational strategy: the EU is focused on harmonisation through the “administration of things and the direction of the process of production” (Barry 2001, p.66).