We believe that the recently proposed Data Act marks a new phase for the data economy. The Data Act increases access to data for users of connected devices irrespective of whether it is personal data as defined in the GDPR or not. The proposed law would be the first one to fully embrace the principle of data sovereignty – people and organisations should have self-determination with regards to their data. The data sovereignty aspects of the Data Act will support Europe’s democratic values and create opportunities for organisations and businesses to capitalise on the benefits of the data economy. However, we still have some concerns around the practical, executional side of the Data Act.

The Data Act is an important pillar of the EU Data Strategy, which was adopted in 2020. This plays a key role in support of the EU’s ambitions to build a single market for data and to make Europe a global leader in the data-agile economy. 

As we have previously emphasised in our campaign, we are pleased to see that the Data Act recognises that “the data generated by humans and machines remains unused, or its value is concentrated in hands of relatively few large companies,” and also that “low trust in data-sharing, conflicting economic incentives and technological obstacles do not allow for the full realisation of the potential of data-driven innovation”. Moreover it acknowledges that, in this digital age, access to high-quality and interoperable data from different domains is essential for competitiveness, innovation and sustainable growth across all areas of the EU economy. 

The new regulation is intended to ensure that the same dataset can be used and reused (with user consent) for a variety of purposes, without any limitations and without any loss in terms of quality or quantity. This is expected to stimulate the emergence of new and innovative business models and services, as well as supporting the creation of new knowledge and efforts to achieve climate, health and environment-related objectives. In that sense, the Data Act is a progressive regulation and a significant move towards a more sustainable digital future, built on data sovereignty.

A trust framework as a ‘soft’ infrastructure

It is very good news that the regulation aims to facilitate data sharing across the EU and between sectors by increasing trust in data intermediaries and strengthening data sharing mechanism. However, the Data Act only lightly touches on the implementation of the sharing practices by referring to common standards and data spaces. In this area we think that the Data Act could go much further and direct the development of interoperable soft infrastructure in Europe. As DSN, we have been pushing for over a year now for the development of a trust framework as a ‘soft’ infrastructure, to ensure true interoperability under control of people and organisations. We firmly believe that this is the only way to ensure a more sustainable digital future in which everyone – people and organisations – can benefit from the data economy. 

The European Commission can play a key role in this by establishing an EU-wide soft infrastructure for cross-sectoral data governance which consists of functional, legal, technical and operational agreements. This trust framework will support decentralised data sharing based upon European values, built on a sound consent mechanism that works for every entity, whether a person, a business or a government. This soft infrastructure, based on the abovementioned uniform agreements, is essential for organisations to be able to seize the opportunities of the data economy – to innovate, to view data valorisation from a fresh perspective and to develop new business models. 

We must pull together to build a better digital society in which people and organisations are in control of their data, and in which the ‘data benefit balance’ is realigned more fairly. Only then can we create a solid and sustainable foundation for the next growth cycle of the digital economy.

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