Open Data for Buildings: Questions by EUREC

Hi everyone,

I got a question by EUREC:

The background of my request stems from Article 14 of the EPBD, in which the European Parliament has a proposal regarding making data from building systems publicly available – providing data is aggregated and anonymized. Essentially, we strongly support this provision for public access to data from all buildings and agree that data should be anonymized to protect privacy but disagree that data also needs to be aggregated. We believe that aggregation reduces data’s scientific value, and anonymization without aggregation is enough to guarantee privacy.

To that end, we were tasked by the European Commission with providing referenceable work for two aspects:

  1. Justification of the data sharing provision generally (i.e. the value of data sharing, and particularly data sharing for buildings)
  2. Potential elimination of aggregation (i.e. is anonymization enough to guarantee privacy? What nuances/granularities of data are lost through aggregation, and how important is this?)

If you could help us with these questions or show the value of data from building management systems or energy systems through specific examples/case studies/academic work, it would be very helpful.

Any comments are welcome.

This public interest litigation currently before a German court may be material to this discussion.

The relevant part of this case concerns the Zentrale Stelle Hauskoordinaten, Hausumringe und 3D‑Gebäudemodelle (ZSHH) databank [unofficial translation: central location for house coordinates, house perimeters, and 3D‑building models] which is administered by the German federal state of Bavaria. The ZSHH is made up of datasets from various German federal states, some of which are already under Creative Commons CC‑BY‑4.0 licensing (based on information from Felix Reda).

As I understand it, data journalist Michael Kreil (website, WikiData) published an article about the ZSHH along with some or all of the associated databank. Bavaria then commenced civil and criminal proceedings against Kreil, alleging infringement of copyright and allied rights. Kreil subsequently published an article about a similar databank that documented the remaining land areas available for the construction of wind turbines in Germany consistent with statutory separation rules (such that the remaining potential is really quite limited). And the litigation shifted to this more recent activity.

The Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte (GFF or approximately German Society for Civil Liberties) then countersued on behalf of Kreil in the Munich Regional Court. As of July 2023, that case is ongoing. I earlier wrote up some background here on this forum.

A key issue concerns the European database directive 96/9/EC which provides certain protections for the infrastructure associated with the stored data. From a United States perspective, there is no equivalent law — and nor would the datasets in question meet US thresholds for copyright. So this kind of litigation would be improbable in the US.

I just looked for updates on the case, but could not find any. If you need more information, I am happy to follow up with the GFF.

More generally, modelers in Europe or the United Kingdom should be aware that litigation of this ilk is always on the cards unless open data licenses are expressly provided alongside publicly available datasets. With CC‑BY‑4.0 licensing being preferred in most circumstances, for reasons of legal interoperability.

Briefly noting the SLiCE project on the life cycle assessment of buildings. As I understand it, the code and data have not been made public, but that is the intention of the developers.