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Abolishing repetitive submissions of personal information to different Government Departments

Publication Date: Jul 20, 2017

A national data infrastructure that will enable the Once-Only Principle

Written by Dr Joseph Saviour Azzopardi, MITA Manager – Enterprise Data Management

For many years, Government departments have operated through a silo approach, where each department protected its own information and data of consumers, thus requiring them to provide their personal details each time they required a service from a different department.

Through the National Data Strategy which is being proposed, Government will be implementing the Once-Only Principle, where citizens will be required to provide their information once and then it is made available across all the Government platforms. This will eventually abolish the use of forms and will allow government departments to share all the required information by simply inputting the identification number of the citizen. 

The draft of the National Data Strategy was presented during the SEMIC 2017 conference that was held in Malta last month. The strategy consists of a number of separate, but related documents which are namely:

The Data-Driven Public Administration which is the main document and which contains the main principles and best practices which are to be adopted for the gradual implementation of the strategy;
National Data Infrastructure document which contains the main building blocks or platforms on which the implementation will eventually be based;
Base Registers for Enterprise Data Sharing is the document which explains in more detail the first national attempt at creating and using the new Person and Address Registers which will serve as the main anchors on which the mapping between line-of-business and the corporate data layer can be built. The mandate to initiate this project for the centrally shared and maintained details for the natural person and the postal address is through OPM Circular 31/2016 issued by the Office of the Permanent Secretary in October 2016.

The focus of the following write-ups in this series is the explanation of the four main building blocks that make-up the proposed National Data Infrastructure and which are the following:

The Authorisation, Representation and Authentication Platform
The Foundation Data Layer Platform
The Metadata, Mapping and Data Middleware Platform
The National Data Portal and Data Services Platform

These four integrated data platforms represent the main tasks that are being undertaken by the Government of Malta to ensure that the Once-Only Principle, as advocated by the EU Commission, can be implemented locally before Malta can aspire to join the other member states and implement the Once-Only Principle also for pan European data transfers and the exchange of data in relation to EU Citizens and Businesses across the different jurisdictions and administrative boundaries, including the issues of the different languages.

The Once-Only Principle states that whenever the public administration already holds in its data-stores data which is required for other processes other than those for which it was originally collected, this data should not be requested from the citizen or the business in a repeated manner.

This holds true for those records which are maintained as part of official registers both at the Public Registry and in the other national registers which are domain specific.

This may seem to go against the original principles of the General Data Protection Regulation which state that the data collected has to remain in the context of the original consent given by the data subject.

However, this approach and sometimes the wrong interpretation of this principle aimed at safeguarding the person can be the reason why more data and information silos are created and which ultimately result in excessive bureaucracy and more administrative burdens.

The first building block that will be explained here is the tip of the iceberg and is the presentation layer which will make the works in the other building blocks visible and accessible to the consumers and the providers of the datasets. This is the National Data Portal.

Malta has an obligation to provide a national Open Data Portal as part of the implementation of the Public-Sector Information Re-Use Directive (PSI) which was enacted at EU level in 2013 and was transposed as Maltese law in October 2015 as the Chapter 546 of the Laws of Malta.

The Open Data Portal is meant to be the national gateway for the harvesting of metadata and pointers to the actual datasets published by Malta as Open Data for the publication on the European Data Portal which is meant to be the one-stop shop for Open Data discovery across all EU member states.

In view of the need to also share the data internally for the implementation of the Once-Only Principle, it was decided that we will not implement the Open Data Portal in a stand-alone mode but as part of a holistic approach to enterprise data management.  

This means that after we discover all the data that is processed by the Maltese public administration, then we ensure that it is catalogued and classified before a decision is taken to open up and publish those datasets which do not contain data of a sensitive nature and which does not breach the requirements for the protection of the privacy of person identifiable data.

To ensure that we can have a comprehensive list of official registers as mandated by the Laws of Malta and as necessitated by the public administration processes, a new Register of Registers was compiled and will continue to be maintained centrally and will become a new official register.  

The contents of the Register of Registers (names of the registers) is actually classified as Open Data and will be the first dataset to be published on the new Open Data Portal.

This register may also be classified as metadata (data about data) as in fact it is an officially maintained list of all the registers which the Government of Malta is maintaining and to this list we will also add the details as to what is the legal basis of the data collected, who as a public role or function is the owner / custodian of the register and what type of data sensitivity and data security classification is given to each one of these registers.

The other pillar of the National Data Portal is the Internal Data Sharing Platform which will be dealing with the controlled sharing and re-use of information which cannot be classified as Open Data but which is still needed to make sure that the Once-Only Principle can be properly implemented.

While the National Data Portal is built on the two main objectives, namely the Open Data Portal functionality and the Internal Data Sharing Services within the public administration itself, there is no doubt that the back-end systems and the shared services for the authorisation, representation and authentication of the users, the mapping between the Corporate Data Layer and the line-of-business systems and the metadata (description and national indexing) for all the official registers can be and should be provided from the same source.

What is important is that only the accredited and officially recognised sources for the relevant dataset or register are used.

About the author:

Dr Joseph Azzopardi graduated as Notary Public and Doctor of Laws from the University of Malta. He has over 35 years work experience in Information Systems ranging from software development, systems analysis, database design to ICT and data management roles. As the Enterprise Data Manager at MITA and Data Governance Manager for the Government of Malta for the past 17 years, he has been fully engaged with Data Management, Data Advocacy and Data Stewardship efforts. He was responsible for the PSI Directive transposition and now for its implementation. He is also the national representative for Open Data and the Once-Only principle.