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Use personal data on behalf of citizens - On citizens' terms

"According to the MyData Principles, individuals must have a possibility to manage, use, and give consent to data gathered from them"

Last Thursday, 27 January, the city of Helsinki and its programme, MyData Operator, were the main focus of our monthly webinar. On this occasion, the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights had the opportunity to learn about and discuss the platform for fair consent for sharing personal data developed by our Finnish colleagues. 

A data management model based on individual consent

Stemming from the idea of boosting citizens rights to control their data as a directly usable asset, the City of Helsinki has developed a digital approach based on consent and accountability. MyData is a principle for personal information management. According to it, individuals must have a possibility to manage, use, and give consents to data gathered from them. Helsinki aims to acquire MyData capacities so that there would be no need to compromise between usage of citizen data, privacy, and information security. In order to improve the visibility needed for this approach, one of the purposes of Helsinki´s project has been to make all definitions understandable and enough to satisfy legal needs and practical desires. As a member of my Data Global and having signed the MyData manifesto, Helsinki policy makers stress that to make these tools accessible to citizens, the development of other accompanying tools, such as informative videos or interactive elements, is also key.

Once immersed in the debate on the MyData Operator Model, the first thing that stands out is the division into different layers when it comes to dealing with the management of the storage. In this three-point model, there is a flow between data owners, data using services, MyData Operators services, and finally, those who allow their data to be distributed among services while exercising control over it. Thanks to this process, the management process is simplified, as well as making it easier to understand for those who dispose of their data.

Saving citizens time and effort and granting their digital rights 

The operator has already been implemented in several projects. One of them is aimed at reducing and digitising the procedures for applying for reduced day care fees. According to Finnish legislation, local authorities are responsible for providing day care services, while parents or legal guardians have the right to qualify for reduced rates due to their employment status. In the past, it was necessary for families to fill in a paper annually to prove their income, and send it securely by post. Now, citizens can authorise the City of Helsinki to obtain their data directly from the Tax Authorities Income Registry. This not only saves time and effort, but also facilitates the smooth running of the local authority. 

While this programme has been hailed as a success by the City of Helsinki, the developers themselves are working to establish a model that can be applied to any case where the assessment is necessary and recognise the difficulties that remain in scaling up the project. Always with a citizen-centred approach, the debate showed the need to provide citizens with tools to understand their rights. In this case, Helsinki has developed the MyData handbook which explains to both citizens and data owners the procedures to follow in the different applications of the project.

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