The government of Belgium considers the source code of software solutions created for or by its public services to be public information that must be made available on request. The federal government now wants to discuss with the country’s regional governments how to accommodate such requests. “This requires a clear legal basis, as part of the rules on open data,” an advisor to the country’s Minister for the Digital Agenda told the European Commission’s Open Source Observatory.
Last summer, Belgium proposed changes to the European directive on open data and the re-use of public sector information (known as the PSI directive). The directive should explicitly include algorithms and computer programmes, Belgium suggested. The compromise, following discussions with other EU Member States, was to add this sentence to the introduction: “Member States may extend the application of this Directive to computer programmes.”
“We suggested this change because citizens may have legitimate questions about how software programs function, for example software used to calculate taxes,” the government advisor explained. “In addition, making the software available allows citizens and companies to reuse the software, develop new ideas and in return share these.” Examples of the latter include software utilities central to Belgium’s electronic identification system, the OpenFed web content management system – based on Drupal – used by the federal government, and Belgium’s involvement in the Eclipse RDF4J metadata analysis tool.
Not alone anymore
Belgium is the second EU Member State to view software as public sector information. In 2016 France approved its law for a Digital Republic (République Numérique) extending the country’s principle of “open data by default” to cover source code.