Public access

Last updated: July 2021

Sufficient data should be freely accessible to the public

  • The public should have access to beneficial ownership data, at a minimum to a subset that is sufficient for users to understand and use the data.
  • This data should be available free of charge.
  • This data should be available as open data: published under a specified licence which allows anyone to access, use, and share it without barriers such as identification, registration requirements, or the collection of data about users.
  • This data should be available in bulk and searchable by both company and beneficial owner.
  • A legal basis for the publication of data should be established, in line with privacy and data protection legislation, and potential negative effects of the publication of data should be understood and mitigated for.
  • A broad purpose for publishing the data based on accountability and the public interest should be specified in law.
  • Where information about certain classes of persons (e.g. minors) is exempt from publication, the exemption should be clearly defined, justified, and narrowly interpreted.
  • Where a disclosure system permits anonymity in published data on a case-by-case basis in a protection regime (for example, to mitigate personal safety risk), the grounds for granting anonymity should be clearly defined, proportionate, and fairly applied.
  • Where data has been exempted from publication, the publicly available data should note that beneficial ownership information is held by authorities but has been exempt from publication.

Having a public beneficial ownership register means that law enforcement, businesses, journalists, and citizens from around the world can easily access information on the beneficial ownership of companies. Having widespread third party use of data can drive up data quality, and can increase impact by expanding the user base beyond authorities. For instance, publicly available beneficial ownership data can reduce the cost and complexity of due diligence and risk management for the private sector, thereby leveling the playing field and increasing competitiveness. Evidence shows that data in a public register is used much more widely when it is available without use of barriers such as registration, payment, or identification. This can be particularly important for enabling international users to access the data (for example, when tracing transnational links between companies).

Disclosure and publication of beneficial ownership information has legitimate public interest purposes, and can be compliant with data protection and privacy legislation, as has been done in many different jurisdictions where beneficial ownership systems have been implemented. In practice, this means that the fields of data that are collected and published (including identifiers) should be developed in the context of local legislation, whilst maximising availability of information that supports effective data use. Potential negative effects should be understood and mitigated for (for example, through implementing layered access and a protection regime), in compliance with the above principles of data usability.

In instances where a person is granted anonymity within beneficial ownership data (e.g. under a protection regime), this should not automatically constitute an exemption to disclosure. Their beneficial ownership will still need to be disclosed ownership and this information should still be available to authorities.