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How can we make better use of the economic and social potential of data without losing sight of possible negative aspects? On 2. February 2023, we organized a panel discussion on the current state of the data policy in Germany.

Key insights from the discussion

The event was kicked-off by Moritz Hennemann (University of Passau) who put the efforts of German data policy into a larger European context. He stressed that data policy is one of the crucial cross-cutting issues of our time – as, for instance, weather data is crucial for planning your weekend travels to monitoring climate change or flight traffic and includes military purposes. He further noted that data usage always comes with trade-offs between various norms and decisions, e.g., between the economic usage of data and privacy rights. One way forward for an effective data policy according to Moritz Hennemann is to think in sectoral fields of applications and create sectoral data spaces which facilitate and foster the usage and sharing of data. Based on these experimentations, shared criteria and measures for data spaces can then be developed.

Based on this input the panel started with a discussion of the envisioned data institute to be set up by the German government. Andreas Peichl as member of the founding commission of the Data Institute gave an overview of the goals and structure of the data institute to be implemented. While the panelists agreed that the data institute is the right step in the right direction, it was stressed that the institute will need an agile structure and enough financial backing. Moreover, the panelists highlighted that its success will largely depend on the selection of effective areas of applications and use cases.

Another strand of the discussion focused on the question of what effective data policies for a common good need in the next 5 to 10 years. Here, Benjamin Adjei stressed the existing gaps in Bavaria which lacks appropriate strategies, laws, and infrastructures for an effective data policy. According to Amélie Heldt the state can play a crucial role here, e.g., by creating open data repositories that can be utilized by startups as well as actors from academia, civil society or the public sector. Moreover, she advocated for the creation of sandboxes and spaces for experimentation to create positive uses cases.

The last part of the discussion centered on the (perceived) tradeoffs between data protection and data usage. Here, the panelists agreed that data protection is frequently misused to shield off and block access to and usage of data. Amélie Heldt also stressed that the GDPR is crucial as it creates trust among citizens, whereas Andreas Peichl presented some examples for different treatments of GDPR requests depending on the local context. Benjamin Adjei criticized the simple “black-or-white” thinking when it comes to data protection versus data usage.

The panel discussion centered on strategies and narratives to facilitate data usage and sharing. The panel debated the added economic and societal benefits, while also addressing its related challenges for citizens, business and regulators touching upon topics linked to the data institute, data for common good and the necessary prerequisites for effective data usage for public interest.

The panelists strongly agreed that we need a shift of narratives and direction focusing more on a positive vision of data usage and what good can come out of data-driven projects for society at large. To this end, however, we need to invest more financial resources and build up organizational and infrastructural capacities that put us in the position of using data for the public interest.

Partners & organization

The panel discussion was part of the series "Governance by & of Technology" which was hosted in 2022 / 2023 at the TUM Think Tank. The public event attracted a broad audience who joined the three panelists Amélie Heldt (Digital Policy Officer at the Federal Chancellery), Benjamin Adjei (Member of the Bavarian State Parliament and Digital Policy Spokesperson for Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen), and Andreas Peichl (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Ifo Institute & Member of the Founding Commission of the Data Institute). The event was moderated by Sofie Schönborn (TU Munich).

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