Open data can help ‘heal society’s problems’, says former MEP as she takes up new digital role

Open data can help ‘heal society’s problems’, a former Scottish MEP has said as she takes up a new role promoting global digital transparency and interoperable standards.

Catherine Stihler, who stood down as the European Member of Parliament for Scotland in January after 20 years in the post, said she is now campaigning for ‘frictionless data’ and a free and open internet that helps foster a culture of open research and innovation for public good.

Stihler, a former Labour politician, has taken up the position of Chief Executive of Open Knowledge International, a global not-for-profit organisation founded by Dr Rufus Pollock, an early pioneer in the global Open Data movement, which campaigns for the free and open flow of information online.

“I’m transitioning out of politics and I’m going to be using my knowledge that I gained to be passionate about things like the digital single market, I’m passionate about copyright reform and to apply it to a world of open data because at the moment we’re in a world where the open questions, openness more generally, is under pressure and so if we want to have the benefits that we can hugely gain from in open data then we must advocate for it and we must promote digital via open data to help heal society’s problems,” she said.

Stihler, who will be based from her Dunfermline home but travelling widely as she manages a global team of 22, said she is looking forward to bringing the knowledge she has gained from her position as Vice Chair of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee at the European Parliament into her new post. In particular, she worked on policy issues such as the Digital Single Market, copyright reform, data mining, open research and open access. However, despite hoping for a “balanced approach” and maximum emphasis on openness in a new copyright law, enshrined within the EU’s proposed Article 13, she said she was ‘disappointed’ by the text agreed this week in Paris.

Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive states services such as YouTube could be held responsible if their users upload copyright-protected movies and music. Google has described the move as potentially ‘changing the web as we know it’.

Stihler said: “This deeply disappointing deal is an attack on openness.
“The copyright crackdown will lead to a chilling effect on freedom of speech across the EU.

“We want people to be empowered to build, share and reuse their own data and content freely and openly, and this move goes against that principle.  
“It does not enhance citizens’ rights, and could lead to Europe becoming a more closed society – restricting how we share research that could lead to medical breakthroughs or how we share facts to combat the spread of ‘fake news’.

“I urge MEPs to vote down this proposal and fight for a future where our world is more open.”

Stihler said she is also deeply worried that Brexit is going to leave Britain as a ‘rule taker’ when it comes to the EU-wide data initiatives which would leave the country unable to take advantage of free exchange digital services across borders.

She said: “The single market is a digital single market because we need to agree rules cross-border so that we can are able to produce products that we don’t have barriers to. Creating a frictionless single market, digitally, is vitally important to the future of all our economies.”

In a blog post she published on taking up her new role she praised Scottish companies like Get Market Fit who are championing open data by creating a service that warns consumers about online fake goods.

The proposed new law will be voted on by the European Parliament in a few weeks.