How public is the personal for (Scottish) people’s data? Citizens and trust in private sector use of government-held (personal) data

Special Track Chairs: Angela Daly (University of Dundee) and Lucille Tetley-Brown (University of Glasgow) 

Brussels region

The Scottish Government has recently (March 2022) launched a new programme that seeks to obtain greater use from sector (personal) data. This Special Track seeks input from both academia and practice to explore the topic of robust public participation in debates about and implementations of private sector access to public sector (personal) data. The role of the public is recognised as a vital central component in increasing trust, legitimacy and accountability in leveraging – or unlocking – value from data. The proposed Special Track will discuss the myriad of issues and opportunities regarding ways that Scottish Government might facilitate how the private sector can or – more normatively – should  use public sector (personal) data resources, including theories, mechanisms and processes around the role of the public and trust in doing so.

As a constituent nation of the UK, Scotland holds national data about its public, and has a legal mandate to oversee and manage this data on behalf of the public, and to enable the mechanisms and processes for the access and use of that data. This Scottish national data includes extensive public sector personal data sets for its population as a whole, which can be viewed as national assets. Given increasing international private sector interest in Scottish public sector personal data, a programme of work for ‘Unlocking the Value Of Data’ has commenced, running from 2022 – 2024 and is headed by Kate Forbes MSP, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy.

Despite the obvious disanalogies with commercial organisations, over the last two decades the political climate across the UK has persuaded public sector bodies to conduct themselves as a ‘business’ (Fuller & Geddes, 2008; Hartley et al., 2002). This is the business of serving the citizen — or society broadly — whilst allocating resources prudently (read: effectively and efficiently). Consequently, it is not surprising that public authorities have attempted to emulate businesses in making more effective use of their data as part of a broader modernising agenda (Symons, 2016).

Patil and Mason (2015) argue that “everyone in an organization should have access to as much data as legally possible” (Mason & Patil, 2015, p. 6), which they refer to as the democratisation of data. However, what about the legal access and ethical or moral implications of facilitating access to as much data as possible outside an organisation? What about when that organisation is a non-commercial entity? What if, even given it is non-commercial, it still seeks to be “competitive”, as does the Scottish Government, on behalf of the people of Scotland? What is the role of the public itself in these discussions?

In order to assist and inform the Scottish Government’s new programme of work on unlocking the value from public sector (personal) data, we invite sharing of examples from across the world of how private sector access to public data has been handled, including the role of the public, as a collective or individuals, in this activity.  We invite proposals that will both contribute to the global debate and inform the Scottish Government’s steps to address challenges balancing different duties, interests and responsibilities when considering private sector use of public sector data, especially personal data, and how this can be done in ways which generate public trust in the process and public benefit in outcomes.

The proposed track is particularly interested in the use of public sector personal data with or by the private sector, but also invites contributions that looks the other way (public sector use of private sector data) and mechanisms (e.g., governance, legal frameworks etc.) or infrastructures (physical and digital) needed to enable the flow of data between these actors, and the appropriate actor involvement and / or oversight to ‘safeguard’ the public benefit. We are also especially interested in the ways that public benefit is defined, determined or deconstructed in conjunction with expectations or pressures from prevalent interpretations of what counts as ‘value’ in private sector use of public sector (personal) data.

Therefore, we invite submissions from both practitioners and academics, across (but not limited to) the following topics:

  • Can private sector use of public sector (personal) data be done in ways which generate public trust and public benefit?
  • What does public trust and benefit mean and look like in these scenarios?
  • Case studies of successful, equitable and beneficial private sector use of public sector (personal) data
  • The role of government actors in unlocking value in public sector (personal) data for public benefit including tensions and opportunities
  • What does it mean if data is a “national asset” and what are the examples of other Nations interacting with their Government-held data as an asset?
  • What does it mean for government to value the public’s data as an asset? How does this vary in different industries, institutions, sectors? 
  • What is the role of the political context (including federalism/devolution) in unlocking public sector (personal) data for private sector use?
  • The role of private sector actors in using public sector (personal) data and differing scenarios in different countries/industries.
  • The interaction between private sector actors and the public/s in using public sector (personal) data
  • Appropriate pathways for public sector (personal) data use by the private sector – what data is admissible, to whom and within what parameters?
  • The role and conceptualisation of the public/s  – what public/s and how can public/s benefit and trust be facilitated in private sector use of public sector (personal) data?
  • Challenges, benefits and models for public participation in private sector use of their data held by the public sector
  • The nature and extent of private sector gains from public sector (personal) data use and how this is governed and managed
  • Governance models, business models and benefit sharing models for private sector use of public data for public benefit e.g. data trusts
  • Intellectual property rights and considerations in public sector (personal) datasets and in subsequent use and modification by private actors including open data licensing and benefit sharing
  • Negotiating  data ownership/stewardship of and public participation in public sector (personal) data use by the private sector including legal and ethical issues

– Fuller, C., & Geddes, M. (2008). Urban governance under neoliberalism: New Labour and the restructuring of state‐space. Antipode, 40(2), 252-282.
– Hartley, J., Butler, M. J. R., & Benington, J. (2002). Local Government Modernization: UK and Comparative Analysis from an Organizational Perspective. Public Management Review, 4(3), 387–404.
– Patil, D. J., & Mason, H. (2015). Data Driven. “O’Reilly Media, Inc.”.
– Symons, T. (2016). WISE COUNCIL.