Sensitive biodiversity data at the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility
Publishing biodiversity data for open use is challenging. Several reasons exist for why some content in biodiversity datasets should not be made public, but rather kept secret – either partially or completely – due to its sensitive nature. The most essential reasons are as follows:
- Nature conservation: endangered species, protection regulations, international environmental agreements and commitments, sensitivity to disturbances depending on time/location, etc.
- Data ownership and management: personal data, research use, business activities, etc.
- Biosafety: organisms harmful to humans, animals and plants, such as plant diseases, pests, etc.
The Act on the Openness of Government Activities (21 May 1999/621) is the most important legislation governing how data distributed through FinBIF is made less specific or secret.
Section 24 – Secret official documents, item 14: Documents containing information on endangered animal or plant species or the protection of important natural habitats, if access would compromise the protection of the species or the habitat.
Sensitive data held by the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility is protected either by making location data less specific or making the data secret. This applies to species whose protection would be endangered by data disclosure due to persecution, hunting, disturbance (e.g., bird-watching, photography) or commercial or hobby-based collection activities. The threat must be specifically directed at the species in question. Potential destruction of the habitat of any species is not grounds enough for making data less specific or secret. Justification is given separately for each species. For some species, the need to make data less specific applies only part of the year, such as in nesting and wintering seasons. Data will be made less specific to the extent that location cannot be deduced from, for example, existing habitats suitable for certain species. Data can be made less specific in the following ways:
- 1 km x 1 km
- 5 km x 5 km
- 10 km x 10 km
- 25 km x 25 km
- 50 km x 50 km
- completely secret.
List of species with sensitive data
The working group for authorities at the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility has come to an agreement on the species whose location data included in the observation records will be made less specific or secret on the Laji.fi website. Data in its original, specific form is, however, available to authorities to support decision-making.
At the end of 2015, a preliminary list was sent for comments to authorities for the environment and natural resources, as well as other public parties including species-related working groups, organisations and associations. Experts familiar with individual species or species groups were also heard separately.
With the help of extensive and comprehensive feedback, discussions were continued and the list was amended accordingly. The Natura nature protection regions contain several species whose only available data in the Natura database is “endangered species”. Therefore, observation data for these species will continue to be made completely secret within the Natura regions. Updating the list of species in the Natura regions classified as secret requires a separate process that is not directly connected with the operations of the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility.
Update needs for the list of sensitive data held by the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility will be regularly reviewed.
Exceptions to data made less specific and secret on the list of sensitive species
For technical reasons, location data for some species will be made secret in a manner stricter than the list of sensitive species requires. At the moment, it is technically impossible to implement specific regional restrictions required by the following species:
- Siberian jay (completely secret south of the Kokkola-Joensuu line)
- Gyrfalcon (completely secret in the province of Lapland during nesting season)
- Snowy owl (completely secret in Lapland from 1 February to 31 October)
- Grass snake (wintering nests)
- Adder (wintering nests)
All observations of Gyrfalcons and Snowy owls will be made completely secret. Observations of Siberian jays will be made less specific with 100 km as the general level of specificity in all of Finland.
In addition, it has so far been possible to define only a single nesting season (1 April–31 August). Therefore, all observations that must be made less specific due to nesting season will be made less specific for this time period. However, the nesting season of some species begins earlier than this. Therefore, for these species, the reason for making data less specific will be marked as nesting season.
- White-tailed eagle (regional restriction of 50 km in the provinces of Oulu and Lapland, nesting season already begins 1 February), general level of specificity 50 km
- Northern goshawk (nesting season begins 1 March), general level of specificity 10 km
- Golden eagle (nesting season begins 1 February), general level of specificity completely secret
- Eurasian eagle-owl (nesting season begins 1 February), general level of specificity 10 km
- White-backed woodpecker (nesting season begins 1 March), general level of specificity 5 km
Levels of secrecy can be redefined as the technical characteristics of the database are developed further.