Exploring public sector personal data benefit sharing

December 7, 2022 by No Comments | Category Data, Digital, Digital Scotland

Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

Blog by Anna Berti Suman and Stephanie Switzer, authors of a literature review commissioned as part of the Unlocking the Value of Public Sector Data programme.

How can the public sector share personal data with the private sector in publicly trusted ways, to unlock the public benefit of this data? We performed a literature review to enable the Scottish Government to identify (I) relevant approaches to benefit and costs sharing and (II) intellectual property rights or royalties schemes regarding the use of public sector personal data with or by the private sector both in the UK and internationally.

Key findings from our study can be summarised as follows:

  • Public-sector bodies generally lag behind in developing and implementing data sharing regimes compared to the private sector; however, there are existing good practices in policy areas such as public health.
  •  Studies demonstrate that ordinary people are supportive of health and social care data being used for public benefit but wish those public benefits to outweigh private profits and interests.
  • When assessing costs and benefits, these should not be conceived of as solely financial but understood in broader, more social terms.
  • Prerequisites for achieving public benefit include transparency and public engagement to ensure a social license.
  • There is, however, some concern that a lack of a definition of public benefit may enable the concept to be exploited to facilitate commercialisation of government-held personal data.
  • There is a vast literature on data value in general, with the notion of such value informed by the underlying context and socio-technical settlement prevalent within society.
  • There were concerns that the ‘assetisation’ of personal data may influence conceptions of value, thereby potentially resulting in a lack of public scrutiny and inequity. To overcome such issues, value co-creation and exchange beyond the market was suggested.
  • Benefit-sharing is a concept typically associated with international environmental law and in particular, international biodiversity law to deliver commutative and distributive justice. Benefit-sharing is thus linked to justice and emphasises the optimisation of benefits to society, together with the minimisation of harm, and the achievement of equity.
  • If data has the potential to benefit the public, it should be shared. Public benefit cannot be obtained in the absence of such sharing. However, the absence of common principles for trusted government-to-businesses (G2B) personal data sharing may lead to restrictions on data flows resulting in detrimental economic impacts. Legal certainty is key for such sharing to take place.
  • Creative personal data sharing schemes are being established between civic organisations and private actors (at times also engaging the public sector) for certain citizen science activities, with creative commons licensing schemes, value co-creation, and the reality of ‘data cooperatives’.
  • There is growing attention in the literature for the concept of ‘data altruism’ as also incorporated in the European Union Data Governance Act; this reflects a tendency to embrace a fair and open sharing of personal data for public benefit.

Our study points to guiding principles that could help in designing an appropriate framework for public sector personal data (benefit) sharing. We pinpoint key principles of relevance in the context. These include proportionality, transparency, public engagement, co-creation of the concept of value, legal certainty and respect for ethical values and norms. Our review also offers insights into cross-national initiatives that are being set up to provide options for the operational framework and governance models for the exchange and secondary use of personal data between countries and actors, respecting the principles of transparency, trust, FAIRness (recalling the FAIR principles), citizen empowerment and common good.

A link to the full literature review titled ‘Industry’s access to public sector personal data: exploring data value and benefit sharing’ will be available shortly and will be added to this blog post.

About the authors

Anna Berti Suman is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow at the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy. She is principal researcher of the project ‘Sensing for Justice’ aimed at exploring the potential of civic monitoring as a source of evidence for environmental litigation and as a tool to foster environmental mediation. She is Qualified Barrister following climate and environmental law cases. Anna obtained her PhD from the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society, The Netherlands.

Her perspective enriched the literature review with an eye on civic understanding of benefit sharing, on the enactment of data governance models ‘from below’ and on data co-creative practices that are deployed by civil society actors for the common good. Find out more: and

Stephanie Switzer is a senior lecturer in the University of Strathclyde’s Law School specialising in public international law. She is a founding member of the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance and has expertise in undertaking qualitative research. She has delivered on several knowledge exchange projects, including consultancies related to benefit-sharing of digital sequence information pursuant to which she reviewed models for the sharing of the benefits deriving from the use of such information. She was also involved in a consultancy for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity which looked at a particular aspect of the benefit-sharing regime internationally, a subject matter that aligns closely with the thematic content of this project on data value and public benefit. She therefore has considerable experience and expertise in looking at issues relating to how data is valued and how the benefits from such data can be shared.
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