Report (3rd Day)
Protection of Freedoms Bill
The Earl of Erroll (Crossbench)
My Lords, I should like to add a couple of words to the debate. I have a sort of interest in that I am helping a New Zealand company called Pingar, which works in the area of contextual data extraction from large unstructured data sets-what are called "big data".
One is aware that there is a huge amount of information out there, particularly in public data sets, which can be reused very usefully, and on that I agree with most of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. We must try to make this information available in useful ways. We could make a lot more use of this information to help the country, and indeed humanity, as a whole.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord that the definition of data set is most peculiar. When information is analysed and put into tables and some sense is made of it, further information may then be extracted and combined with other data, and that is probably the best use that can be made of it. Therefore, it seems a bit odd to include in the definition only raw data before it is analysed. However, it is probably that I just do not properly understand the Bill and all its ramifications in that area.
However, there is an area where I sympathise entirely with these two amendments. A research establishment in a university is publicly funded and is at the cutting edge, and it may spend a lot of money acquiring raw data. Having to reveal those data to someone else before anything is done with them is like giving that other person a free ride regarding all their data acquisition. Why should someone not be second into the field, waiting until someone else has spent all the money acquiring the data, asking for the data set and then running their own analysis? For a researcher, the most valuable part is the raw data.
I found it fascinating that on Amendments 55ZA and 55ZB the Minister was urging secrecy-we had to keep all this stuff from the Civil Service secret so that citizens could not find out whether their money was being used usefully. Now, we are opening up everything where public money has been spent so that UK plc can advance itself in the research area and so on. We are suddenly opening that up so that anyone can get hold of it.
The first of the two amendments relates to putting copyright restrictions on data sets to make sure that they cannot be taken freely, yet in other legislation the Government are making sure that we give large amounts of money to large American corporations which have bought copyright from British creators so that they can enforce that copyright. Therefore, we are looking after the interests of large commercial companies but we are not looking after the interests of our research establishments and universities. I am terrified that they are going to lose the competitive edge that they might have.
The interesting thing that came out of the whole Crick/Watson DNA episode was the fact that they got together-there was a meeting of minds in an informal environment where they exchanged ideas. Again, what worries me is that the Government are trying to prevent that with their Immigration Rules and tier 2 immigration arrangements so that we will no longer attract people and encourage a flow of brains in and out of the country. That would be far more valuable than trying to open up data sets so that other people could use them abroad.