In October last year, Dubai introduced the new ‘data law’ which will allow the sharing of information between public sectors and for the benefit of the private sector. This Article aims to understand the concomitants of such a move.

Remember that time when a dial up icon popped up on your screen at the time you logged into internet connection and had to wait for the system to be connected to LAN? In contrast, all you need to do today is switch on your computer and it is automatically connected to the internet. In the coming years, technology is anticipated to be more intelligently integrated in our lives than it is today. Specialized software and sensors will be used to track resources, respond to crime or take constant vital signs. In the words of technology maker Vint Cerf, ‘it is almost as everything will be connected to everything.’ The inherent risks that such wide exposure will pose to the public in general cannot be denied. But when the risk is compared to the magnitude of benefit the economy will have, it appears that the decision makers will be willing to take the plunge.

In 2013, Obama’s ‘open’ data policy saw a major breakthrough as the White House issued the Executive Order for open and machine readable government data thereby instilling a sense of transparency in government actions. In 2014, the President’s assent was concluded for the enactment of Digital Accountability and Transparency Act 2014 (US Data Law).

The general principles under Section 1 of the Executive Order provides germane frame of reference for implementation of the Executive Order. It states as under:

“Decades ago, the U.S. Government made both weather data and the Global Positioning System freely available. Since that time, American entrepreneurs and innovators have utilized these resources to create navigation systems, weather newscasts and warning systems, location-based applications, precision farming tools, and much more, improving Americans' lives in countless ways and leading to economic growth and job creation. In recent years, thousands of Government data resources across fields such as health and medicine, education, energy, public safety, global development, and finance have been posted in machine-readable form for free public use on Data.gov. Entrepreneurs and innovators have continued to develop a vast range of useful new products and businesses using these public information resources, creating good jobs in the process.”

‘Open data’ and need for its encouragement in the wider context

Open data means such information which may be available in a defined format for the use, re-use and benefit of the people. An understanding of the US concept of which data will be open data, required fulfilment of the following:

  1. The data should be PUBLIC. This means that subject to applicable and legislative restrictions the data should be available publicly on a platform.
  2. The data should be RESUSABLE which means that there will be an ‘open license’ on the data with no restriction on the use and should be non-proprietary.
  3. The date should be ACCESSIBLE which means that the format in which data is provided or published should be retrievable, downloadable and capable of being searched appropriately. To the extent possible, the resources should use granular metadata, data dictionaries, and characteristics of data.

As economies are getting more technologically adept, the concept of open data is expected to promote efficiency, interoperability, accessibility, accuracy and economic development wherever legally permissible.

Imagine the use of such data for monitoring public utilities, understanding the trends relating to utility consumption, managing traffic issues. Open data can provide deeper significance in understanding healthcare innovations, markets trends on commodity consumptions, education trends for starters. Advancements in the field of science, healthcare and education are more palpable when inferred from an inspiration. Relying on Wikipedia, the idea of software giant Microsoft was born when Paul Allen showed Bill Gates a publication on Altair 8800- a super computer. This concept of ‘open date’ has gained much acceptance for innovators in technology, as there has to be reasoning for Facebook and Google to provide ‘open source’ for its artificial intelligence (AI) hardware computing design. These companies do not procure hardware from suppliers like Dell or HP but have inspired themselves to be self-efficient for their hardware needs. Now, with the ‘open source’ AI , although a countless other factors will play key role, yet this inspiration would be multiplied.

What does the new law mean for Dubai?

As it stands today, the new law will be applicable to Dubai rather than have a federal application.

For starters, the new law providers for ‘data sharing’ or ‘open data’ concept rather than ‘data protection per se. The scope of such distinction is beyond the purview of the article. The new law is a well-conceived move to making Dubai a SmartCity in coming years.

Dubai has evolved and is set to evolve more drastically by 2021. The rulers have a vision to make Dubai a SmartCity for which a committee has been formulated to oversee the physics in making dreams a reality. In 2013, the number of tourists in Dubai was a whopping 11 Million. The city offers state of the art infrastructure and services.

The aim for SmartCity initiative is then to capture data, integrate the same and provide seamless services in major sectors including safety, travel, health and education. Dubai’s smart city strategy includes over 100 initiatives and a plan to transform 1,000 government services into smart services. The project aims to encourage collaboration between the public and private sectors to achieve targets in six ‘smart’ focus areas: smart life, smart transportation, smart society, smart economy, smart governance and smart environment. The strategy relies on three basic principles: communication, integration and cooperation.

Challenges? Considerations?

With any concerted move, it is only wise to take into consideration the latent risks or challenges associated with such a move. One such key challenge to the data law will be protection of privacy and sensitive data. Perhaps implementation of a ‘data protection law’ needs to be contemplated. The new law needs to have directives and guidelines with clear objects on each challenge that the policy may face in coming years. While many may construe the above as a soup spoiler, such challenges have only been real and existent in the past. If the policy makers rely on the examples of nations that have tested ‘open government data’ models, the pattern of these challenges could be mitigated to great extent.

For instance, in United Kingdom data.gov.uk provides for open government data. A survey by Direct Line Insurance in the 2011 found that 11% of respondents[1] claim to have seen but not reported an incident because they feared it would make it more difficult to rent or sell their house. In another incident, the reported crimes for Surrey Street were 136 for 2011 while actual incidents were only two. [2] It therefore infers that policy makers will have to adopt much careful approach than it can be visually thought of to offer the seamless services that they have envisaged. If these hurdles can be well mitigated and Dubai is able to tread on the data sharing and smartcity initiative, a better quality of life is around the corner no doubt.