Access to Information

   

To what extent can citizens obtain official information?

EUOECD
 
Legal regulations guarantee free and easy access to official information, contain few, reasonable restrictions, and there are effective mechanisms of appeal and oversight enabling citizens to access information.
10
Estonia
The main principles of access to public and official information are laid out in the constitution. Additionally, the Public Information Act (PIA) has been in force since 2001, and the Personal Data Protection Act since 2007. The act is enforced by the Data Protection Inspectorate (DPI), which acts as an ombudsman and preliminary court, educator, adviser, auditor and law-enforcement agency.

Because Internet use is widespread in Estonia, the strategic policy has been to advance access to information by using official websites and portals. All municipalities, political parties and government institutions must maintain a website, which must contain at least the information defined by legal acts. The situation is annually monitored and evaluated by the DPI. The DPI also monitors state authorities’ web pages and document registries.

Public access to information must be prompt and straightforward, with restrictions strictly defined by law. Any citizen or resident can submit an oral or written information request to the government and officials must provide a response within five working days. The obligations of authorities under the Public Information Act are not only to provide information, but also to assist the public in accessing documents. In conjunction with the EU data protection reform (2018), the information requests to DPI regarding personal data protection, especially in the digital environment, are growing. In order to co-ordinate the development of cross-sectoral data services and ensure compliance with the EU data protection directive, a special council has been established by the DPI at the end of 2017. It includes representatives of government ministries and the Information System Authority.
Finland
The public’s access to government information is in principle unrestricted. In accordance with the Finnish constitution, every Finnish citizen has the right of access to public documents and recordings. This right includes access to documents and recordings in the possession of government authorities, unless their publication has for some compelling reason been restricted by a government act. However, special categories are secret and exempt from release, including documents that relate to foreign affairs, criminal investigations, the police, security services and military intelligence. Such documents are usually kept secret for a period of 25 years, unless otherwise stated by law. One such document, the so-called Tiitinen’s List, continues to be highly controversial. The list was handed over to Finland by West Germany in 1990, and is assumed to contain the names of 18 people who allegedly collaborated with the East German Intelligence and Security Service. However, to date, Finnish authorities have refused to release the document.
Finland was among the first countries to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents in 2009. The 1999 act on the openness of government activities stipulates that people asking for information are not required to provide reasons for their request, and that responses to requests must be made within 14 days. Appeals of any denial can be taken to a higher authority and thereafter to the Administrative Court. The Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman can also review the appeal.
Latvia
The constitution provides individuals with the right to address the government and receive a materially substantive reply. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), in place since 1998, creates the right to request information and receive a response within 15 days. No reason needs to be given for the request. Information is classified as generally accessible or restricted. Any restrictions on the provision of information must be substantively reasoned in accordance with specific legal guidelines. The FOIA is actively used by the press, NGOs and the academic community. Appeal procedures are in place, including both an administrative and court review. Government decisions to classify information as restricted have been challenged in the courts, with the courts generally upholding a broad standard of access to information.

Latvia has a number of regulations promoting transparency in the decision-making process, requiring the government to make documents available to the public proactively. Documents regarding draft policies and legislation are freely available online, and cabinet meetings are open to journalists and other observers. Regulations require that many documents be published online for accountability purposes. This includes political-party donations, public officials’ annual income- and financial-disclosure statements, national-budget expenditures, conflict-of-interest statements, and data on public officials disciplined for conflict-of-interest violations.


In addition, the parliament approved a new Law on Whistleblowing in 2018 (which will come into effect in 2019). The law will enable whistleblowers to expose offences that concern public interests or interests of certain social groups.
Citations:
1. Freedom of Information Act, Available at (in Latvian): http://www.likumi.lv/doc.php?id=50601, Last assessed: 04.01.2019

2. Saeima (2018), Saeima adopts Whistleblower Protection Law, Available at:
http://www.saeima.lv/en/news/saeima-news/27315-saeima-adopts-whistleblower-protection-law, Last assessed: 04.01.2019.
Norway
Freedom of information legislation gives every person right of access to official documents held by public authorities. Official documents are defined as information that is recorded and can be listened to, displayed or transferred, and which is either created and dispatched by an authority or has been received by an authority.

All records are indexed at the time of creation or receipt. Some ministries make these electronic indexes available on the internet or through e-mail. Requests can be made in any form (even anonymously) and must be responded to without undue delay, generally (according to Ministry of Justice guidelines) within three days.

Documents can be withheld if they are made secret by another law or if they refer to issues of national security, national defense or international relations, financial management, the minutes of the State Council, appointments or security measures in the civil service, regulatory or oversight measures, test answers, annual fiscal budgets or long-term budgets, or photographs of persons entered in a personal data register. If access is denied, individuals can appeal to a higher authority and then to the parliament’s ombudsman for public administration, or to a court. The ombudsman’s decisions are not binding but are generally followed. There have been very few court cases dealing with this issue.

The 1998 Security Act sets rules on the classification of information. It creates four levels of classification and mandates that information cannot be classified for more than 30 years. The Act on Defense Secrets prohibits the disclosure of military secrets by government officials, as well as the collection (in the form of sketches, photographs or notes) and disclosure of secrets by others, including journalists. Articles 90 and 91 of the criminal code criminalize the disclosure of secrets, and provide for imprisonment of up to 10 years for violations of these provisions.

In 2010, the government made it easier for citizens to access public documents by providing them with access to the government’s electronic-post journal.
9
Denmark
The Access to Public Administration Files Act (1985) stipulates that, “any person may demand that he be apprised of documents received or issued by an administration authority in the course of its activity.” Exemptions to this framework include matters of criminal justice; access to an authority’s internal case material; records of meetings of the Council of State; minutes of meetings of ministers; documents prepared by an authority for use in ministerial meetings; correspondence between ministers relating to the making of laws, including appropriation bills; documents exchanged in connection with the secretarial function of one authority on behalf of another authority; correspondence between authorities and outside experts for use in court proceedings or in deliberations on possible legal proceedings; and material gathering for the purpose of public statistics or scientific research. The law previously included European Community documents, but this exemption was removed in 1991. The law further describes files that “may be subject to limitations,” related to state security, defense of the realm, protection of Danish foreign policy and Danish external economic interests. This list is rather detailed and open-ended. The act stipulates that requests must be dealt with quickly. If no decision has been made within 10 days, authorities must inform inquiring parties as to why their request has been delayed and when they can expect a decision.

The new Access to Public Administration Act in 2014 was approved in parliament by a majority consisting of the government coalition parties as well as the Liberal and Conservative parties; the act met opposition from both the left and right (the Danish People’s Party, Liberal Alliance and Unity List). The revised act has been criticized for reducing access to documents prepared by government officials in the process of preparing new government policy.

The parliamentary ombudsman can review the decisions by administrative authorities over the disclosure of information. The ombudsman cannot change decisions, but can make recommendations, which are normally followed by the authorities.

Denmark was not among the 12 European countries that signed the first international convention on access to official documents in Tromsø, Norway, on 18 June 2009. This Council of Europe convention has been criticized for its weaknesses.
Citations:
Act No. 572, 19 December 1985, The Danish Access to Public Administration Files Act, http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/compliance/C2008-28/response/DKAccessToPublicAdministrationFilesAct.pdf (accessed 16 April 2013).

“Danish Government Seeks to protect decision documents,” http://www.freedominfo.org/2013/02/danish-government-seeks-to-protect-decision-documents/ (Accessed 16 April 2013).

“Danish Parliament Adopts Controversial FOI Changes,” http://www.freedominfo.org/2013/06/danish-parliament-adopts-controversial-foi-changes/ (accessed 20 October 2014).

Helle Krunke, “Freedom of Information and Open Government in Denmark,” http://ojs.imodev.org/index.php/RIGO/article/view/9/70 (Accessed 16 October 2017).

“12 European Countries Sign First International Convention on Access to Official Documents, 19 June 2009,”
http://www.freedominfo.org/2009/06/12-european-countries-sign-first-international-convention-on-access-to-official-documents/ (accessed 16 April 2013).
Lithuania
The principle of freedom of information is upheld in Lithuania’s constitution and legislation. For instance, the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public states that, “Every individual shall have the right to obtain from state and local authority institutions and agencies and other budgetary institutions public information regarding their activities, their official documents (copies), as well as private information about himself.” Appeals can be made to an internal Appeals Dispute Commission and to administrative courts. Legal measures with regard to access to government information are adequate, and do not create any access barriers to citizens; however, citizens often fail to take advantage of their right to use this information.

Lithuania joined the multilateral Open Government Partnership initiative in 2011. In 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018, the Government Office developed action plans for improving open-government practices throughout the country. During the review period, Lithuania signed the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (2015) and the U.N. Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (2015). In 2016, the government approved three major initiatives to make public institutions more accountable to society, reduce corruption and increase transparency, while also increasing public engagement. However, implementation has been undermined by a lack of measurable targets and meaningful collaboration with civil society.

Information-access provisions in Lithuania cover all levels of the executive, yet exclude the legislative branch. The right to request information applies to citizens of and legal residents within Lithuania and European Economic Area states as well as foreign nationals with a residence permit (in contrast to most OECD countries, where there are no such legal restrictions concerning the status of participants). Following a complaint by 10 media organizations to the parliamentary Ombudsman regarding difficulties in accessing information, the Ombudsman issued a recommendation to the Ministry of Culture asking that journalists’ right to acquire information be promptly implemented. The OECD has recommended helping the country’s civil service to better understand the added value associated with access to information.
Citations:
OECD, Public Governance Review Lithuania- Fostering Open and Inclusive Policy Making Key Findings and Recommendations. 2015.
http://www.opengovpartnership.org/blog/ogp/2014/02/12/three-cohort-2-countries-will-not-receive-irm-reports.
Slovenia
Slovenian law guarantees free and quite easy access to official information. Restrictions are few and reasonable (covering mostly national security and secret data issues), and there are effective mechanisms of appeal and oversight enabling citizens to access information. When access to official information is obstructed or denied, the Information Commissioner, an autonomous body that supervises both the protection of personal data as well as access to public information, can be called upon and intervene. In a number of cases, the Information Commissioner has helped citizens and journalists enforce their right of access. The new online application “Supervisor,” set up by the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (CPC) as a means of enhancing transparency in the country, has helped the public and the media access some previously restricted financial information. In July 2016 Supervisor was upgraded and integrated into the new web application Erar, also developed by the CPC. The Ministry of Public Administration has developed a publicly available web-based public procurement portal and online statistical tool.
Sweden
Sweden is a forerunner and remains a leading country on all issues related to transparency in government and public access to government information and documents. Both the political elite and public cherish the fundamental principle that all government documents are public, unless they are classified or relate to individual integrity. If anything, the emergence of e-government has further promoted the objective of accessibility and transparency. Sweden is also pursuing greater transparency within the European Commission.

There has been a growing problem lately in the willingness of government departments to provide documents to the public and the media as swiftly as the constitution states. Media representatives in particular have criticized the government on this matter. There is also some frustration among executive agencies to have access to documents of the government departments. Nevertheless, Swedish government and administration still meet high requirements regarding transparency and publicity.
Citations:
Andersson, Ulrika, Anders Carlander, Elina Lindgren, Maria Oskarson (eds.) (2018), Sprickor i fasaden (Gothenburg: The SOM Institute).

Olsson, J., H. Ekengren Oscarsson and M. Solevid (eds.) (2016), Eqvilibrium (Gothenburg: The SOM Institute).
Switzerland
Swiss authorities pursue very open strategies of information release. For example, the website of the federal administration offers access to major sources of political information.

Article 16 of the constitution, dealing with the issue of freedom of opinion and information, states that: “(1) The freedom of opinion and information is guaranteed; (2) Every person has the right to form, express and disseminate opinions freely; (3) Every person has the right to receive information freely, to gather it from generally accessible sources and to disseminate it.”

The Federal Law on the Principle of Administrative Transparency (Loi sur la Transparence, LTrans) was approved in December 2004 and took force in July 2006. The law gives any person the right to consult official documents and obtain information from authorities. The authorities must respond within 20 days. If a request is refused, a citizen can seek redress from the Federal Delegate for Data Protection. However, this law’s coverage is limited, applying to federal public bodies, other organizations and persons who make decisions under the Administrative Procedures Act, and parliamentary services. The Suisse National Bank and the Federal Commission on Banks are exempted. The law also does not apply to official documents concerning civil or criminal law processes, documents relating to foreign policy, or political party dossiers relating to administrative disputes. Consumer organizations have argued that the law contains too many exceptions.

Given these qualifications, it is noteworthy that this law has gained some influence, since the Federal Supreme Court has interpreted it in a liberal way.
Citations:
Eveline Huegli, Marius Féraud (2014). Evaluation des Bundesgesetzes über das
Öffentlichkeitsprinzip der Verwaltung (BGÖ). Schlussbericht im Auftrag des Bundesamts für Justiz. Bern: Büro Vatter.
UK
The United Kingdom has a long tradition of official secrecy. However, in recent years successive governments have very actively tried to capitalize on the transparency and cost-savings potential of making government information available online. Together with the Freedom of Information Act 2005, this has contributed to easier access for citizens and, often in a very high-profile way, the media. The restrictions on what information can be provided under the Freedom of Information Act (cost limits; national security restrictions; state financial interests) are largely in line with the respective regulations in other countries. More recently there has been a debate about restricting the right to freedom of information. However, the former head of the civil service and the Cabinet Office minister responsible for the civil service have both opposed any restrictions on access, although former Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose government introduced the Freedom of Information Act, has said that he regrets doing so.

The United Kingdom has also been at the forefront of making government data available for commercial use and citizen inspection (“open data”). Recent efforts to simplify and render government information more accessible have seen the replacement of a profusion of web sites with a single government portal (gov.uk) and it is clear that the government now regards the provision of information as a high priority. It is noteworthy that the United Kingdom is now mentioned internationally as a leader in open government and access to data. In the World Justice Project’s 2015 Open Government Index, the United Kingdom ranked 8 out of 102 countries, behind the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Canada.
Citations:
http://worldjusticeproject.org/open-government-index/open-government-around-world
 
Access to official information is regulated by law. Most restrictions are justified, but access is sometimes complicated by bureaucratic procedures. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms permit citizens to enforce their right of access.
8
Austria
Citizens can access government information, but certain restrictions apply. The principle of privacy protection is sometimes used as a justification – at times, only a pretext – to prevent academic research and other inquiries. The Austrian bureaucracy still appears tempted to consider access to information a privilege rather than a right. However, despite these practical shortcomings, the principle of transparency is enshrined in the Austrian constitution, and generally enables access to information by citizens.

Indeed, the overall trend is favorable, with practices of information access becoming progressively more liberal. For example, the police and courts have now established structures (offices and officers in charge) responsible for information. This seems in part to be a result of generational change within the bureaucracy.

Despite ongoing discussions, Austria has not yet adopted an encompassing Freedom of Information Act, of which all citizens are informed and able to use. There are too many caveats in the law (defined as state-relevant “secrets”) to protect government acts from public access. A draft version of the Austrian Information Act was discussed in parliament but failed to be adopted.

Increasingly, the impact of controlled information in the form of government paid advertisements in the media has become an issue. As these advertisements generate significant income for some media (especially newspapers), this should not only be seen as information directed by the government at citizens, but also as a means of making media dependent on the government.
Croatia
The Right of Access to Information Act has been in place since 2003 and the legislative framework is relatively well established, thanks in particular to later amendments to the act. In October 2013, a long-standing demand by NGOs was met and Anamarija Musa, a public administration scholar, was appointed by parliament as the first commissioner for the right of access to information. Thanks to her efforts, access to information has significantly improved. More than 80% of the 5,900 distinct public authorities now submit the required regular reports on the enforcement of the act and about 85% have an information officer in charge of handling information requests. Transparency is lower at the local and regional level and in the case of public companies. In 2017, Croatian citizens submitted 22,226 requests for access to information. Their requests were met – fully or partially – in 85% of the cases. However, violations are rarely penalized. Commissioner Musa and others have criticized the fact that court procedures have been cumbersome, and courts have rarely passed verdicts against public authorities.
Czechia
The Czech constitution and the 1999 Law on Free Access to Information, substantially amended in 2006, provide for extensive access to government information. Public bodies have gradually learned what can and cannot be kept secret. Most ministries and larger public bodies now include a special section with information provided upon request. The overall transparency improved significantly.

However, there are still difficulties in access within many municipalities, mainly due to their lack of capacity. Still, municipalities can also be taken to court if officials refuse to respond to requests for information. Some smaller municipalities have faced stiff financial penalties following a failure to disclose information as requested. As a result, the actions of municipalities are becoming more transparent, through streaming municipal board meetings online and allowing citizens to participate in municipal activities in other interactive ways.

An increasing number of NGO initiatives support better access to public administration information and the public’s right to accessing it. These initiatives, together with the pro-active approach of the ombudsman’s office, have contributed to an improvement in the quality of online portals for public administration and thus have further improved access to government information. One example of important new initiatives is the “Right to Information” program started in 2017 by the NGO Open Society (Otevrena Spolecnost) and co-funded by the Ministry of Interior. It has praised some public offices for openness and criticized, among others, the Chamber of Deputies and the Office of the President. Under the Babiš government, the request for information on the distribution of EU funds and public contracts has increased as a result of the concerted effort by civil society and the opposition, especially the Pirate Party.
Germany
The Freedom of Information Act took effect in 2006. The act defines what government information is publicly available. In his 26th Activity Report, covering the period 2016 to 2017, Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDI), Andrea Voßhoff, acknowledges that nearly all German states have adopted their own freedom of information laws or are in the process of developing legislation.

Even so, citizens remain largely unaware of the federal Freedom of Information Act. Although many federal agencies strive for transparency, some public authorities have interpreted the act in a very restrictive manner. Some have sought to introduce delays in the process of providing information, while others have refused to provide access to documents altogether, arguing that the contents were of vital importance to ongoing government activities and thus confidential. In an overall assessment in 2018, Andrea Voßhoff concluded that citizens are increasingly making use of their rights and that federal authorities do no longer regard the information right of citizens as a nuisance but as a significant element of a civil society. More than 20,000 citizens turned to the BfDI concerning complaints and questions. The main activity of the BfDI and government was the adjustment of the national laws to the new Data Protection Directive of the European Union from May 2016. However, the national law did not strengthen the BfDI and its federal commissioner which was expected to be one of the main points in translating the EU directive into national law (BfDI 2018b).
Citations:
BfDI (2018a): 6.Tätigkeitsbericht zur Informationsfreiheit 2016 und 2017.
https://www.bfdi.bund.de/SharedDocs/Publikationen/Taetigkeitsberichte/TB_IFG/6TB06_18.html;jsessionid=8F278CD43752856CC559CFBB167B372D.2_cid329?nn=5217154

BfDI (2018b): Pressemitteilung 07/2018 zum 6. Tätigkeitsbericht: https://www.bfdi.bund.de/DE/Infothek/Pressemitteilungen/2017/12_UebergabeTB_15_16.html
Greece
Citizens’ free and easy access to official information has been regulated since 1986. Two laws passed in 2006 and 2010 provide for the creation of an electronic system allowing access to any public document. Officials are required to make declarations of their assets and income public. There are a few reasonable access restrictions pertaining to matters of national security and defense.

There are effective mechanisms of appeal and oversight enabling citizens to access information. First, there are administrative courts, including the Supreme Administrative Court (StE, Symvoulio tis Epikrateias). Second, there is the ombuds office, established in 1997. Unfortunately, owing to work overload, administrative courts can take a long time to decide on a case, but the ombuds office represents a well-managed mechanism of appeal and oversight. The ombudsman can demand that any public service respond to a citizen’s right to information, even though ministries themselves tend to be quite unresponsive to citizen requests.

Α law passed in July 2010, known as Diavgeia (clarity), required all public authorities to upload to an electronic platform all administrative acts, laws, decrees and circular. Thus, the scope of access to official information was drastically expanded. In October 2014, the Greek government passed a new law which further expanded access to public documents and adapted Greek legislation to the Directive no. 2013/37/ΕΕ of the EU’s Council of Ministers. A new codification of all relevant legislation took place in March 2015, without practically changing any regulations. Since then no significant changes have been observed in this policy area.
Citations:
The four most important laws regulating access to information are Law 1599/1986, Law 3448/2006, Law 3861/2010 (the “Diavgeia” law), and Law 4305/2014. Presidential Decree 28/2015 codified all previous legislation on access to information and was issued in March 2015.
Ireland
Irish Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, initially enacted in 1997, was amended in 2003 to restrict access to data and information about decision-making in the public administration in several key areas, including defense, government meetings and areas of commercial sensitivity. The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act passed in 2013 removed the substantive restrictions introduced in 2003, and extended FOI to all public bodies including the National Treasury Management Agency, the National Asset Management Agency, An Garda Síochána and the Central Bank of Ireland. Moreover, it reduced the cost of internal review from €75 to €30 and appeal fees from €150 to €50.

The existing FOI legislation has been used effectively by individuals and the press to gain access to information regarding the manner in which ministries reach decisions, the expenses incurred in public procurement, and instances of the waste of public funds. In 2105, almost 28,000 freedom of information requests were made to public bodies, with about 20% coming from journalists.

Government departments, ministries and agencies now have information officers to channel information to the public. In some cases, these officers act as purveyors of objective information; others act as spin doctors, putting biased interpretations on events to suit politicians.

The Central Statistics Office of Ireland (CSO) is responsible for the collection and dissemination of official statistics. An independent national statistics board oversees its performance. This office is located in the Department of the Taoiseach (the Prime Minister’s Office) and is not answerable to the ministers responsible for areas covered by the statistics. Sensitive data (such as figures on inflation and unemployment) are made available to ministries shortly before their publication, but they have no right to alter these data or to influence how they are presented. The CSO enjoys a good reputation internationally in both its independence from political interference and the technical competence of its staff.

A major problem has arisen with respect to the compilation of national income statistics by the CSO. Following changes to the European System of Accounts in 2010 as well as other statistical reporting procedures, the CSO’s statistics for GDP, exports and investment have been artificially inflated. This is due to multinational corporations transferring intellectual property rights to Ireland and then through a process of on-shoring in which the profits of their affiliates abroad are attributed to their Irish operations. Such has been the pace of these activities that official statistics for 2015 and 2016 are vastly exaggerated and need to be severely adjusted to determine the real value added by multinational corporations in Ireland. Both the Central Bank of Ireland and the Economic and Social Research Institute have published revised statistics using a value added approach to determine the real rate of growth of the Irish economy.

In May 2013, Ireland submitted a letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership. Full membership was achieved early in 2014 with the submission of Ireland’s National Action Plan.

In 2015, there was controversy surrounding the right of journalists to report allegations made in the Dáil (parliament) in relation to commercial transactions between the National Asset Management Agency and a prominent businessman. The courts ruled that the allegations, made under parliamentary privilege, could not be reported in the press. In reality, they became public almost immediately.
Citations:
European System of Accounts 2010 and other Statistical Regulations (2014)

Office of the Information Commissioner, 2016. Annual Report 2015. Dublin: Stationary Office.
Israel
Israel has a freedom of information law (1998) allowing each citizen or resident to apply for information regarding a government authority’s activity, whether written, filmed, recorded or digitized. This legal standing has been the basis of considerable activity by NGOs and private individuals. For instance, municipal authorities and government offices issue online reports detailing their progress in various areas. Naturally, the right to freedom of information is not absolute, with reasonable restrictions on the basis of national security or privacy issues.

However, an analysis issued by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2008 stated that the restrictions are within reason and do not prevent the law from achieving its main goal (i.e., creating a more transparent and accountable government). In addition, the right-to-privacy law (1998) grants individuals the right to access their personal information held in government or private-entity databases. The implementation of this law is enforced by the registrar of databases in the Ministry of Justice and petitioners can appeal to the courts if they find that government practice does not accord with the law.

In 2011, government decision No. 2950 established a designated unit for freedom of information in the Ministry of Justice. The unit is also n charged with implementing OECD guidelines for managing and sharing information. As part of its mandate, the unit publishes a yearly progress report. According to the unit, 6,659 applications were received in 2016, while 63% of applications received a reply within the legal 30-day period. According to the report, in 2016 the unit disclosed classified correspondence and documentation for the first time, following a request from the official investigation committee into the Yemen children affair.

In 2016, the government announced it was launching a program designed to open all governmental databases to the public. By May 2018, 1,085 databases have been mapped and uploaded by governmental offices, most of them open to the public. This step contributes to the ongoing policy of increasing transparency by expanding the authority of the Governmental Unit for Freedom of Information and financing projects undertaken by the unit.
Citations:
“About the unit for freedom of information,” The Ministry of Justice website:
http://index.justice.gov.il/Units/YechidatChofeshHameyda/About/Pages/OdotHayechida.aspx (Hebrew)


“Annual Report of the unit for freedom of information: 2016,” The Ministry of Justice website: http://www.justice.gov.il/Units/YechidatChofeshHameyda/PeilotHayehida/DohotHayhida/ReportYears/Pages/report2016.aspx

“Freedom of Information Law,” 1998: http://www.freedominfo.org/documents/Israel–FOIL1998.pdf


“Protection of privacy law,” 1981: http://www.justice.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/C5205E15-3FE9-4037-BA0F-62212B40773A/18334/ProtectionofPrivacyLaw57411981unofficialtranslatio.pdf


“The Government approved today the publication of all governmental databases” http://www.themarker.com/news/politics/1.3053541 (Hebrew)




“The movement for freedom of information”: http://www.meida.org.il/


Government ICT Authority: Open Government Action Plan for 2018-2019, http://yoursay.gov.il/cio/File/Index/nap3english/
New Zealand
Access to government information is regulated by the Official Information Act 1982, which has been reviewed several times. There are restrictions with regard to the protection of the public interest (for example, national security or international relations) and the preservation of personal privacy. There are clear procedures for how queries are handled by public bodies, including a time frame of 20 working days to respond. The Office of the Ombudsman reviews denials of access upon request. Following a number of precedent-setting decisions by the office in recent years, access to official information is now far-reaching, including access to politically sensitive communications between political advisers and ministers as soon as these communications are made. According to the Chief Ombudsman, the number of Official Information Act (OIA) complaints made to the Ombudsman had increased by 30% in the first half of 2018 compared to the equivalent 2016 period (OIA complaints data, covering the six months to December 2018, will be released in March 2019). Most of the complaints were in respect of agencies refusing or delaying their responses to requests.
The OIA scores 94 out of 150 according to the Global Right to Information (RTI) rating, and is the highest among developed, English-speaking countries. However, government agencies have been criticized for taking longer periods of time to respond to information requests than allowed by the OIA. Compliance by agencies and ministers with OIA continues to be a public concern. The independent authority, the Office of the Chief Ombudsman, publishes biannual data on OIA complaints against ministers and agencies. The previous IRM report recommended reforming the OIA to improve public access to information. Commitment 2 in the current action plan focuses on improving government agency practices around requests for official information, but the action plan falls short of addressing a comprehensive reform of the law.
Citations:
StatsNZ. 2018.Official Information Act requests. https://www.stats.govt.nz/about-us/official-information-act-requests/#responses
Ombudsman 2018. OIA complaints data. http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/resources-and-publications/oia-complaints-data
RTI 2018. http://www.rti-rating.org/view_country/?country_name=New%20Zealand.
David Fisher, ‘Government needs to live by the spirit of the Official Information Act,’ NZ Herald, 26 October 2017, www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11937072.
7
Australia
Since 1982, access to government information has been largely regulated by the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act). Under this act, applications for information from the government must be made in writing and agencies must respond within 30 days.

The original FOI Act contained a considerable number of exemptions, including for cabinet documents; internal working documents; documents affecting national security, international relations or relations with states; documents affecting enforcement of law and protection of public safety; documents affecting federal financial or property interests; documents relating to business affairs or research; and documents affecting the national economy.

Ministers were granted considerable discretion to issue “conclusive certificates” stating that information was exempt under the act’s provisions that protect deliberative process documents, national security and defense, cabinet documents, and documents related to federal/state relations. These certificates could not be reviewed at any appeal.

Compliance with the FOI Act was heavily and widely criticized in the past, and the Labor government elected in 2007 passed several pieces of legislation and new regulations that sought to improve community access to government information. This included: the Freedom of Information (Removal of Conclusive Certificates and Other Measures) Act 2009; the Freedom of Information (Fees and Charges) Amendment Regulations 2010; the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010; and the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010, under which requirements to publish information were increased as of 1 May 2011.

In May 2014, the coalition government announced the abolition of the office of the Australian information commissioner, although in principle its main functions will continue to be carried out by other agencies.
Citations:
Attorney General’s Department web site describing the 2009 and 2010 Freedom of Information reforms: http://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/FOI/Pages/Freedomofinformati onreforms.aspx

http://www.oaic.gov.au/images/documents/freedom-of-information/app lying-the-foi-act/foi-guidelines/pa rt2_Scope_application_FOI_Act_v1.3.pdf

Statement by the Australian Information Commissioner, Freedom of Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner on the government’s decision to abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner: http://www.oaic.gov.au/news-and-events/statements/australian-governments-budget-decision-to-disband-oaic/australian-government-s-budget-decision-to-disband-oaic
Belgium
While there is no law that directly addresses freedom of information, access to official information is in general granted and is supposed to be provided without impediment (Belgium was one of the signatories of the Convention on Access to Official Documents in 2009). In practice, however, some information can be hard to find, is not directly publicized or is not made widely available. This is further complicated by the multilevel structure of state institutions and administration (federal, regional/community, provincial and local), which is additionally characterized by ineffective sharing and aggregation of information across all levels.

As a researcher, it is often difficult to determine how to gain access to information. To take just a few examples, at the time of writing, finding information from the country’s main consumer-budget survey has become increasingly difficult; data on pass/fail rates at French-speaking universities is now considered classified; and the state is now specifically avoiding collection of information that may have “ethnic” content (a response to the country’s tense ethnolinguistic conditions).
Bulgaria
Access to government information for citizens is guaranteed by the Bulgarian constitution and regulated by the Access to Public Information Act originally adopted in 2000. It ensures a high level of access for citizens to government information and refusals to provide information can be appealed in court. The opportunity for court appeals has been actively used by civil society actors and organizations, and a robust court practice has developed. In recent years, the amount of government information made freely and promptly available on the internet has increased markedly, so that the need for formal requests for information has declined. The most common excuse for refusing to release information is that interests of third parties may be affected, while confidentiality and classified information considerations come a distant second. Delays in the provision of information also persist.
Citations:
Access to Information Programme Foundation (2018): Access to information in Bulgaria in 2017. Sofia (http://store.aip-bg.org//publications/ann_rep_eng/2017/2017_FINAL.pdf).
Canada
Access to official information in Canada is regulated by the Access to Information Act. Access is often impeded by bureaucratic procedures and delays. The 2017 Freedom of Information Audit by News Media assigned an F for disclosure of information, stating that the system for requesting and accessing government documents is slow and inefficient, and that very few requests are granted in a timely manner. Although the law does provide for access to much of the Canadian government’s documents, there are grounds to black-out or redact many requests, and many government agencies do not fall under the act. In general, there is reluctance on the part of political and bureaucratic officials to release information that places the government in a bad light, and the current system of access to information appears to allow such attitudes to influence the release of information.

In a recent report by the Canadian-based Centre for Law and Democracy and Madrid-based Access Info Europe, Canada’s access to information legislation was ranked 49 out of 111 countries. “While standards around the world have advanced, Canada’s access laws have stagnated and sometimes even regressed,” the report concluded, noting that Canada was a world leader in 1983 when its federal information law came into force. Stanley Tromp argued that the federal government has failed to reform the legislation sufficiently over time to respond to implementation problems, and incorporate new and progressive developments in the sector.

One major campaign promise of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party in the lead-up to the 2015 election was a more open and transparent government, including updating the Access to Information Act and streamlining the process of requesting information. Although the government has eliminated most fees related to Access to Information requests, government departments and agencies continue to be reluctant to grant requests. A bill currently before Senate to revamp the Access to Information Act (Bill C-58) has proven to be controversial: On the one hand, it will expand the power of the information commissioner, enabling the officer to order the release of government documents. On the other hand, the right to information would not apply to the Prime Minister’s Office or other ministerial offices. Government institutions could also decline a request if it concerns a large number of records, is deemed to be made in “bad faith” or would interfere with government operations.
Citations:
Liberal Party of Canada (2015), “A Fair and Open Government,” retrieved 2015 from https://www.liberal.ca/files/2015/08/a-fair-and-open-government.pdf
News Media Canada (2017) 2017 Freedom of Information Audit, posted at https://nmc-mic.ca/public-affairs/freedom-of-information/2017-freedom-information-audit/
The Centre for Law and Democracy (2012): Entrenching RTI: An Analysis of Constitutional Protections of the Right to Information, posted at http://rti-rating.org/docs/Const%20 Report_final.pdf
Office of the Information Commissioner, Annual Report, 2016-2017, June 2017, http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/rapport-annuel-annual-report_2016-2017_1.aspx’
Tromp, Stanley (2008) Fallen Behind: Canada’s Access to Information Act in the World Context, posted at http://www3.telus.net/index100/report
Chile
The statute on access to public information (Ley No. 20,285 sobre Transparencia de la Función Pública y Acceso a la Información de los Órganos de la Administración del Estado) was approved by Congress in August 2008 and implemented in 2009. It stipulates two dimensions of transparency. The first is “passive transparency,” and obliges all public institutions and authorities of the government to respond to any request for information constituted as public information within a 20-day period (with extensions of up to ten more days possible). The other dimension is that of “active transparency,” and requires governmental ministries and agencies to publish broad information on various topics on their websites. The statute also creates the Transparency Council (Consejo para la Transparencia), an independent agency responsible for monitoring transparency, regulating transparency practices and compelling public services to provide information should they refuse to do so. The Transparency Council’s board of directors is nominated by the executive and approved by the Senate. Information classified as a state secret is exempted from these transparency stipulations. This remains an important clause, as there are about 200 Chilean laws that are officially still classified as secret. These laws derive in some cases from the beginning of the 20th century, and in others from the military regime. Most are actually common knowledge, but remain formally treated as secret. The current government of Sebastián Piñera presented a law proposal (Ley de Transparencia 2.0) to facilitate access to the laws. Although the Transparency Law (Ley de Transparencia) leaves very little room for administrative interpretation, there have been cases of negligence regarding access to and publication of relevant information.
Citations:
http://www.freedominfo.org/regions/latin-america/chile/

http://www.chiletransparente.cl/

http://www.leychile.cl/Navegar?idNorma=276363&idParte=0

http://anticorrp.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Chile-Background-Report_Final.pdf (S. 14)

http://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2018/08/24/ley-de-transparencia-2-0-de-pinera-incluira-levantar-la-reserva-de-casi-200-leyes-secretas/

https://www.consejotransparencia.cl/a-un-ano-de-la-publicacion-de-la-ley-reservada-del-cobre-aun-existen-199-leyes-secretas-en-nuestro-pais/
France
The right of access to information is solidly assured since it was strengthened in 1978 through the establishment of an independent agency, CADA (Commission d’Accès aux Documents Administratifs). This body guarantees that any private or public entity is entitled to be given any document requested from a public administration or service, regardless of the legal status of the organization (private or public) if the institution maintains a public service. However, some restrictions have been established, mainly in relation with issues regarding the private sphere or the protection of intellectual property or business information in order to safeguard competition between companies. The main and more controversial issue is the refusal to issue documents by citing security or defense concerns, a concept which can be applied broadly and with a limited capacity for challenging in court. The administration in question must deliver the requested document within a month. After that deadline, inaction is considered as a rejection which can be challenged in court. In some cases, the adopted solutions reflect the inability of the political elites to adopt clear-cut policies: for instance, it is possible to check the declaration of revenues and property of members of parliament but divulging the information is considered a criminal offense. It is a telling illustration of the reluctance to set up a full transparency policy. In general, a large range of governmental (or public bodies’) information, including official drafts, reports and audits, are freely accessible via the internet. Beyond the legal rules, two media outlets (Canard enchaîné and Mediapart) have specialized in leaking information that public authorities would prefer to keep secret. This has become an important part of the transparency process, but it has had the disadvantage of creating an atmosphere of permanent scandal, sometimes in relation to petty or quasi-ridiculous issues.
Italy
The first freedom of information act was introduced by Law No. 241 in 1990. Its provisions were amended and made less restrictive by Law No. 15 of 2005. Disclosure can be denied only under specific circumstances (such as national security, protection of privacy), which must be explicitly identified by administrative offices. Special offices (Uffici Relazioni con il Pubblico, URP) dealing with requests for access to information have been established in all administrative offices, both national and local. Access has been made easier and more effective by the Decreto Legislativo 25 maggio 2016, n. 97, which significantly extends the range of publicly accessible documents.

Both judicial and non-judicial mechanisms of appeal exist, and are increasingly used. Among these is the Commission for Access to Public Documents (Commissione per l’Accesso ai Documenti Amministrativi) of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, which receives appeals in cases of information-disclosure denials, and can force public administrative bodies to reconsider their decisions. The commission, which is composed both of parliamentarians and technical officers, makes an annual report to parliament. Though the publication of these reports is usually delayed by at least a year. The most recent report for 2016 identified a continuing increase in and responses to citizens’ appeals. Regional administrative tribunals can judicially enforce the disclosure of documents. In spite of this regulatory and organizational progress, the propensity of public administration to provide the answers in due time is still far from being fully satisfactory either because of bureaucratic inefficiency or because of a reluctance to disclose internal matters. A recent report by an Italian NGO found that only 35% of information requests received a response within 60 days.
Citations:
http://www.funzionepubblica.gov.it/sites/funzionepubblica.gov.it/files/Decreto_legislativo_trasparenza.pdf
http://www.funzionepubblica.gov.it/foia-7
http://www.commissioneaccesso.it/media/56634/relazione%20al%20parlamento%202016.pdf
Portugal
Free and readily available access to official information is guaranteed by Article 48, subsection 2 of the 1976 constitution, and mechanisms exist to ensure that this does in fact happen. There are extensive legal provisions providing guarantees for access to official information. Additional support is supplied by the Aarhus Convention of the European Union, which was signed on 25 July 1998 and ratified by Portugal on 7 September 2003. The government has recently put virtually all official information and requirements such as permits and licenses online. This information can be readily accessed through home computers and without cost in a wide variety of public places such as municipal libraries. The Commission on Access to Administrative Documents (Comissão de Acesso aos Documentos Administrativos, CADA), established in 1995, deals with complaints regarding public access to information.

The access to government documents is guaranteed in the following law:
Law number 26/2016 – Diário da República No. 160/2016, Série I de 2016
At the local level, the population generally has access to government information, documents and more through freely available computers at the local library or at government offices.

However, it should also be noted that, while information is available, it is often not well organized. Moreover, it is often not clear even to educated citizens, let alone to citizens with lower educational attainments. This renders citizens’ de facto ability to obtain information less expansive than their de jure ability.
Citations:
Lei n.º 26/2016 – Diário da República n. º 160/2016, Série I de 2016
Slovakia
Access to government information is guaranteed by the constitution and the Act on Free Access to Information (Infolaw), which was originally approved in 2000 and has been amended several times since. In mid-2015, parliament started to discuss an ambitious amendment which had been prepared by a commission established by the Ministry of Justice. Moreover, shortly before the parliamentary elections in March 2016, three prominent watchdog organizations (Transparency International Slovensko, Fair-Play Alliance, INEKO) lobbied for improvements in the Infolaw. In particular, they recommended subjecting companies that are fully owned by the state or municipalities to the Infolaw and making public the salaries and CVs of state nominees. Moreover, the agreements signed by the state and municipalities should be published at one place and the state should start to systematically connect the databases about public procurement, founding and ownership of companies, EU funds and owners of property. After the 2016 elections, Lucia Žitňanská, the minister of justice in the third Fico government who resigned after the murder of Ján Kuciak, prepared a draft amendment that incorporated most of these recommendations. However, the Pellegrini government has not pursued the issue.
Citations:
Školkay, A. (2015): Complex amendment to Slovakia’s FOI Act might make it one of the most liberal in Europe. LSE, Media Policy Project Blog, London (http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mediapolicyproject/2015/04/24/complex-amendment-to-slovakias-foi-act-might-make-it-one-of-the-most-liberal-in-europe/).
Spain
The first specific law enabling free and easy access to government information in Spain is only five years old. Despite being new, this legislation establishes some limits to the freedom of information, and Spain still scores comparatively low for three reasons: 1) some institutions (including the royalty) are not rendered completely transparent by the law, 2) access to information is not recognized as a fundamental right, and 3) the oversight body (the so-called Transparency Council, which decides whether there are data-protection or other security issues that justify withholding the information) is not fully independent, and remains understaffed. For several reasons, including the fact that most data is available only upon request, citizens make limited use of the ability to request information.

Nevertheless, since 2013, access to government information has improved significantly, largely thanks to public policies being given a higher degree of transparency. For example, at the end of 2017, the minutes of the Council of Ministers meetings for the period 1996 – 2017 were made available to the public, the first time this had been done in the country’s democratic history.
Citations:
access-info,
https://www.access-info.org

Las Actas del Consejo de Ministros publicadas por primera vez en España https://www.access-info.org/es/frontpage-es/30077
Netherlands
The Government Information (Public Access) Act (WOB) 1991 governs both active and passive public access to information. Under the WOB, any person can demand information related to an “administrative matter” if it is contained in “documents” held by public authorities or companies carrying out work for a public authority. Information must be withheld, however, if it would endanger the unity of the Crown, damage the security of the state, or particularly if it relates to information on companies and manufacturing processes that were provided in confidence. Information can also be withheld “if its importance does not outweigh” the imperatives of international relations and the economic or financial interest of the state.

Between 2010 and 2012, access to government information became a politically contested issue. In practice, the law was used more and more to justify withholding of information to citizens and journalists in the name of “state interest,” which usually referred the desire to retain the confidentiality of intra-government consultation. On the other hand, local governments accused citizens of improper use of the WOB at the expense of public monies and time. Although there has been new legislation to counteract improper use, which removed the penalty local governments had to pay for not responding in time to a request, civil servants at the national level and in municipal governments continue to strongly oppose the new government transparency bill. The new bill still awaits approval from the Senate. In 2018, the High Council of State tightened its rulings by more clearly defining when privacy protection (e.g., names of civil servants) and personal policy views expressed during governmental deliberations could be considered appropriate justifications for withholding information. The latter ruling pertains to politically salient, post-election cabinet formation negotiations.
Citations:
“Einde misbruik WOB nog niet in zicht,” Binnenlands Bestuur, 13 April 2015

VNG, Behandeling Wet open Overheid in Tweede Kamer, 11 April 2016 (vng.nl, consulted 9 November 2016)

NRC-Handelsblad, “De moeizame weg naar open overheid,” 6 October 2017

J. Keur, Raad van State scherpt rechtspraak aan over toepassing van de Wet openbaarheid van bestuur, 22 February 2018 (Dirkzwager advocaten en notarissen N.N., accessed 25 October 2018)

Volkskrant, Hoeveel helderheid geeft de Wet Openbaarheid Bestuur nu eigenlijk?, 25 April, 2018 (volkskrant.nl., accessed 25 October 2018)
USA
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows citizens a high degree of access to documents and files held by federal agencies. Various categories of information are exempt, such as information related to national defense, personnel rules and practices and ongoing criminal investigations. Administrators have considerable discretion in permitting access, as citizens and researchers have difficulty knowing when relevant information has been withheld. The Obama White House reported that it had reduced FOIA request backlogs and denied fewer requests than the preceding Republican administration. Moreover, the Obama administration generally responded to requests from Congress for internal documents, making fewer claims of “executive privilege.” Both as candidate and president, Trump has refused to disclose his income tax filings – a departure from the nearly consistent practice of the last half-century. His agencies refused to provide information on past lobbying activities to the Office of Government Ethics, which was legally responsible for examining the information to guard against conflicts of interest. In 2017, lawsuits seeking to force responses to FOIA requests surged by 26% over the previous year, indicating an apparent sharp increase in noncompliance.
Citations:
https://www.newyorker.com/news/ryan-lizza/how-trump-broke-the-office-of-government-ethics
6
Iceland
The 1997 Information Act (Upplýsingalög), revised in 2012, aims to guarantee the right of access to official information. Memoranda, working documents, and materials related to the Council of the State (Ríkisráð), cabinet, and ministerial meetings were originally exempted. In 2011, a revision to the Act on the Government of Iceland (Lög um Stjórnarráð Íslands) mandated that the agenda of cabinet meetings be presented to the media and published on the government’s website after each meeting. Paragraph nine states that the prime minister can decide, with cabinet approval, to create ministerial committees on an issue-specific basis. Following a 2015 revision, two permanent ministerial committees were established to oversee state finances and economic affairs.

Sensitive financial and personal information, as laid out in the Act on Processing and Protection of Personal Data (No. 77/2000), is not accessible unless permission is obtained from the person involved. Access to restricted information is available once the measures associated with the information are complete, after a period of 30 years for general information or 80 years for personal information (as per the National Archives Act, No. 66/1985). Information regarding the security or defense of the state, or international commercial activities, is also exempted from the act. Decisions denying access to information can be appealed to the Information Committee, whose members are appointed by the prime minister. No other government or judicial body can overrule the decisions of the Information Committee.

Despite these provisions, public access to information can be restricted. For example, the central bank refused a parliamentary committee’s request to see a transcript or hear an audio recording of a fateful telephone conversation between the prime minister and the central bank governor shortly before the 2008 economic collapse.

Governments have proved to be quite secretive about potentially compromising information. For example, an official report on Icelanders whose names appear in the Panama Papers was ready well before the October 2016 parliamentary election but was not disclosed to the public until after the election in which all three ministers whose names appeared in the Panama Papers were re-elected to their seats in parliament. There have been several other recent scandals involving information withheld from the public. One such scandal led to the collapse of the coalition government of Benediktsson in 2017.

During 2018, an opposition member of parliament from the Pirate Party managed to compel the parliament to disclose information regarding parliament’s reimbursement of members of parliament’s expense claims (e.g., travel costs). Parliament’s failure to ratify the constitution bill, approved in the 2012 national referendum, can be viewed in the light of the bill’s provisions on transparency, freedom of information and protection of whistleblowers – reforms that many politicians continue to resist.
Citations:
The National Archives Act no. 66/1985. (Lög um Þjóðskjalasafn Íslands no. 66/1985).

Information Act (Upplysingalög). Act no. 50/1996.

Act on Processing and Protection of Personal Data. (Lög um persónuvernd og meðferð persónuupplýsinga) Act no. 77/2000.

Act on the Government of Iceland (Lög um Stjórnarráð Íslands) nr. 115 23. september 2011.

Change of Act on the Government of Iceland (Lög um Stjórnarráð Íslands) nr. 115 23. september 2011. (Lög um breytingu á lögum nr. 115/2011, um Stjórnarráð Íslands (skrifleg framlagning mála á ríkisstjórnarfundum)).

Lög um breytingu á lögum um Stjórnarráð Íslands, nr. 115/2011, með síðari breytingum (skipulag ráðuneyta og stofnana o.fl.) nr. 82 13. júlí 2015.
Poland
Access to public information is guaranteed in Article 61.1 of the constitution of the Republic of Poland, and the Law on Access to Public Information provides for far-reaching access to official information. The law defines public information as information on public matters and covers trade unions and political parties as well as the government. In response to an EU directive, a September 2011 amendment facilitated the reuse of government information by citizens and called on public institutions to provide resources enabling citizens to access information. While the PiS government has left the legal framework more or less untouched, it has been more restrictive than its predecessor in granting public access to information and has sometimes openly misinformed the public.
Romania
Law 544/2001, known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), ensures citizens’ access to public information. Its remit creates obligations for all central and local state institutions, as well as public companies for which the state is the majority shareholder. Along with ministries, central agencies and local governments, public universities, hospitals, and many off-budget central and local public companies have to comply with the terms of law 544. However, actual enforcement differs from the terms of the existing legislation. Privacy and secrecy considerations often trump the transparency principle.
South Korea
The Act on Disclosure of Information by Public Agencies regulates access to government information. It makes available all documents described by the act. Information can also be accessed online at the Online Data Release System. If an individual requests the disclosure of information, the agency in possession of that information must make a decision on the petition within 15 days. While this is a reasonable level of exception in theory, “national security” is often interpreted very broadly.
South Korea’s score in the Open Data Barometer improved to 72 (out of 100) in 2017, compared to 62 the year before (though the more recent score was based on a new methodology). In the implementation section, Korea obtained 90 out of 100 points for having a detailed government budget, but only 5 points with regard to publishing detailed data on government spending. It received 50 points in the legislative category. The National Assembly has proved reluctant to disclose information about its spending, a fact that has triggered considerable public criticism.
Citations:
Article 19. Country Report: The Right to Information in South Korea. January 21, 2016. https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/38242/en/country-report:-the-right-to-information-in-south-korea
Open Data Barometer, World Wide Web Foundation. Global Rankings 2017.
http://opendatabarometer.org/2ndEdition/analysis/rankings.html
Open Data Barometer, World Wide Web Foundation. Country Detail: Korea. http://opendatabarometer.org/
 
Access to official information is partially regulated by law, but complicated by bureaucratic procedures and some poorly justified restrictions. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms are often ineffective.
5
Japan
Japan’s Act on Access to Information held by Administrative Organs came into effect in 2001, followed in 2002 by the Act on Access to Information held by Independent Administrative Agencies. The 2011 Public Records Act provides the basis for information access in Japan. In legal terms, Japan is among the leaders with respect to open-government information policies, according to the OECD’s 2017 OURdata index.

However, a number of issues remain. Various exemptions apply, for instance with respect to information regarding specific individuals, national security issues or confidential business matters. Claims can be denied and the head of the agency involved has considerable discretion. Appeals are possible but only in court, which involves a very burdensome process.

In a case highly publicized in 2017, the process through which a right-wing private school in Osaka, Moritomo Gakuen, had received public land came under scrutiny. The Ministry of Finance had designated almost all relevant files as requiring preservation for less than one year, and had accordingly destroyed them.

During the reporting period, controversial cases emerged in a number of fields, underlining the inadequacy of existing rules. In the course of a panel discussion, representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications denied the existence of certain records requested by a newspaper, although they did in fact exist. The Defense Ministry had to concede the existence of a number of records relating to the engagement of the Self Defense Forces in Iraq, which had previously been deemed to be missing. Moreover, it became known that ministries had given some documents obscure names to make it more difficult for the public to obtain information.

The controversial 2014 State Secrets Law gives ministries and major agencies the power to designate government information as secret for up to 60 years. There are no independent oversight bodies controlling such designations. Whistleblowing can be punished by up to 10 years in prison, and even trying to obtain secrets can result in jail terms of up to five years. Critics argue that governments may be tempted to misuse this new law. Moreover, the rights and powers of two Diet committees tasked with overseeing the law’s implementation have been criticized as being too weak. A total of 444,000 public documents were destroyed in 2016 under a loophole in the Secrets Law applying to short-term measures lasting less than one year. While new, somewhat stricter rules were introduced in April 2018, their value is doubtful, as the process remains under government control.
Citations:
Lawrence Repeta, Backstory of Abe’s Snap Election – the Secrets of Moritomo, Kake and the “Missing” Japan SDF Activity Logs, The Asia-Pacific Journal/Japan Focus, Vol. 15, Issue 20, No. 6, 15 October 2017

State Secrets being shredded under legal loophole in divisive 2014 law, The Japan Times, 4 May 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/05/04/national/politics-diplomacy/state-secrets-shredded-legal-loophole-divisive-2014-law/

N.N., Ministry excluded panel discussion records from freedom of information request, The Mainichi 21 July 2018, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20180721/p2a/00m/0na/018000c

Daisuke Kikuchi, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera announces a fresh set of SDF logs from Iraq have been found in growing scandal, The Japan Times, 6 April 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/06/national/politics-diplomacy/defense-minister-itsunori-onodera-announces-fresh-set-sdf-logs-iraq-found-growing-scandal/

N.N., Deliberately obscure gov’t file names leave Japan’s National Archives at a loss, The Mainichi, 6 August 2018, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20180806/p2a/00m/0na/030000c

Jiji, New rules on managing public documents take effect amid Moritomo scandal but critics demand more safeguards, The Japan Times, 1 April 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/01/national/politics-diplomacy/new-rules-managing-public-documents-take-effect-amid-moritomo-scandal-critics-demand-safeguards/
Luxembourg
Luxembourg has no freedom of information act, nor any equivalent legal regulation. Such law has been demanded by journalist associations and many NGOs, as well as by Regulation No. 1049/2001 of the European Commission. The government cultivates a certain culture of secrecy.

Media professionals need their own right of access to public information, which is enshrined in the Press Act. Prime Minister Bettel’s circular letter in 2016 to the state administration on who is allowed to answer media inquiries and thus filter communication with the media – the “Circulaire Bettel” – did not help the media, because it was too complicated.

The journalist Dhiraj Sabharwal complained in May 2018: “If someone wants to talk with the employee of a state administration, journalists lose their time and the direct access to officials, due to the so-called Circulaire Bettel, because these may communicate only through the press secretary. Their job profile once again contradicts professional journalism: Not truth search is the task of the growing PR Armadas from politics and economics, but the professional advocacy with the license to conceal, twist, simplify and, if necessary, to lie. Also popular: For critical inquiries, interviews and reactions from ministers are simply rejected or approved for only less than five minutes of talk time.”
Citations:
“Zeit, sich zu wehren.” Tageblatt 3 May 2018. http://www.tageblatt.lu/headlines/zeit-sich-zu-wehren/ Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.

Association luxembourgeoise des journalistes, www.journalist.lu. Accessed 22 Feb. 2018.

“Presse écrite.” Le portail officiel du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, www.luxembourg.public.lu/fr/le-grand-duche-se-presente/medias/presse-ecrite/. Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.

Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. Official Journal of the European Communities, 2001. www.europarl.europa.eu/register/pdf/r1049_en.pdf. Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.
Mexico
Mexico’s freedom of information act became law in 2002. The law was the first in Latin America to impose obligations on the state to publicly share information and increase the level of political transparency. Mexico’s freedom of information act has proved to be a considerable success in increasing publicly available information. Scholars, journalists and bureaucrats have all made use of its provisions and a lot of new information has come to light. Despite the progressive spirit of the law, however, the extent to which it is obeyed and enforced varies considerably. Powerful public and private actors can delay and obscure access to information, despite formal transparency laws. As is often the case in Mexico, there is a gap between theory and practice. The government response to the disappearance of a group of students in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero, and the frustrated efforts by an international committee to investigate the role federal and local authorities and security forces played in their disappearance, is a case in point. The incoming president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has promised a truth committee to shed light on the event.
4
Cyprus
In December 2017, the parliament approved a law “to regulate the right of access to information in the public service.” The law aimed at creating a comprehensive framework that would, among others, solve challenges with existing rules. References to the right to information are found in the constitutional clause on free expression (Article 19) and in laws on personal-data processing, access to environmental data, the reuse of public sector information, the public service, the press, and others. Article 67 of the Law on Public Service (L. 1/1990) prohibits the disclosure without authorization of any information that comes to the knowledge of employees during the exercise of their duties. The absence of coherent legislation has resulted in contradictory policies from government officials, which ultimately is limiting transparency and constraining citizens’ rights.

Some of the aforementioned laws provide for mechanisms for administrative appeal in connection with the reuse of public sector information, environmental information and data protection. Recourse to an independent authority, the Commissioner for Data Protection, is also possible for relevant issues. Another option is recourse to the courts.

The adoption of the 2017 law is a positive step. A full evaluation will be possible in our next report as article 55 provides for the law’s entry into force one year after its publication in the official gazette (i.e., late December 2018).
Citations:
1. Press report, NGO calls for FOI fees to be axed, http://cyprus-mail.com/2017/02/18/ngo-calls-foi-fees-axed/
2. The Law to regulate access to information in the public service, L. 184(I)/2017, in Greek, http://cylaw.org/nomoi/enop/non-ind/2017_1_184/full.html
Hungary
While existing law provides for far-reaching access to government information, the government has made it difficult for the public and the media to obtain information, especially on issues relating to public procurement by referring to business secrets. Under the Orbán governments there has been a constant fight between the government and the democratic opposition over access to government data and documents, often fought at the courts. Professional NGOs – notably Transparency International Hungary, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) and the “Átlátszó” (Transparent) website – have worked intensively to claim government information through the courts, and independent media organizations (websites such as hvg.hu, 444.hu and index.hu) have regularly published categorized government information. Providing day-to-day information on fake government deals (“mutyi-mondó”) has become a new feature of the opposition online media. As a reaction, the government has tried to raise fees substantially for processing public documents.
Malta
The Freedom of Information Act was passed in 2008 and only came into force in September 2012. Since this time journalists have had better access to information from government bodies. However, exemptions compromise the bulk of the legislation. Under Article 5(4), no Maltese citizen is entitled to apply to view documents held by the Electoral Commission, the Employment Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Office of the Attorney General, the National Audit Office, the Security Service, the Ombudsman Office and the Broadcasting Authority, when the latter is exercising its constitutional function. Under Article 3, only Maltese and EU nationals who have been resident in Malta for a minimum of five years may access information. The prime minister also holds the power to overrule the Information and Data Protection commissioner, despite the latter’s declaration that a request for information should be approved. Moreover, there are a number of laws that still contain secrecy provisions to which the act does not apply. While this may be justified in some cases, it might undermine the essential workings of the act, as it could be in the political interest of the prime minister to suppress the publication of documents, which might embarrass or undermine his administration. The act does not meet the standards of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Access to Official Documents. The 2017 Media Pluralism Monitor assigned Malta a 56% risk rating in this area. The report stated that this rating was in part a result of the weakness of legislation protecting whistle-blowers, since the law offers no protection if such individuals fail to try internal reporting procedures first, or if they report to the press or other media. Between 2015 and 2017, government ministries received 402 requests under the Freedom of Information Act from media houses and members of the public. A total of 54% of these requests were upheld in full or in part.
Citations:
Aquilina, K, Information Freedom at Last. Times of Malta, 22/08/12
Freedom of Information Act Comes Fully into Force. The Independent 02/09/12
In spite of fines ministry offers no reply to Times FOI request Times of Malta 9/5/2015
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160827/local/has-the-freedom-of-information-act-worked.623201
Government says no to most Times of Malta requests for information Times of Malta 11/06/16
Times of Malta 12/08/17 Freedom of information requests tripled in three years
Times of Malta 27/08/16 Has the Freedom of information Act worked?
Times of Malta 30/11/17 Over 400 Freedom of information requests in 3 years
Turkey
According to Law 4982, citizens, noncitizens and foreign corporations have the right of access to government information. However, many public records are not included within the scope of the law, as there are exceptions for state secrets, intelligence information, individual privacy and communication privacy. There is no legislation on state and trade secrets, preventing effective use of access to information. Most public offices have a department that deals with access to information requests. These requests can be made in person or electronically.

Access to information rights and complaint mechanisms are not used effectively. A total of 1.807 million applications for information based on Law 4982 were submitted to public institutions in 2017. According to official information, 80% of requests resulted in the full provision of the requested information, 6.3% resulted in partial information or a negative response, and 6.4% were rejected. Of the rejected applications, 797 were taken to court on appeal. A total of 15,872 applications were found to concern state secrets or private issues, while 101,057 applications were referred to other organizations. The government’s annual report on access to information requests does not include details about the subject of the applications.

The Board of Review for Access to Information, which is attached to the presidency, examines administrative decisions rendered under Law No. 4982 (Articles 6 and 17). The board received a total of 2,020 objection applications in 2017. Of the applications, the board rejected 1,534 because the relevant public institutions had provided a proper response to the applicants and nine because there was no need to respond. Of the applications, 101 were accepted, 134 of were partially accepted and 184 procedurally accepted.

In addition to the right to petition (Law 3071), the Prime Minister’s Communication Center (BİMER) has received public complaints, requests, denunciation and opinions since 2006. The center has received more than two million complaints, over one million of which were about public and private sector employees. Following the abolishment of the PMO in July 2018, BİMER was united with CİMER (Presidential Communication Center) on 10 July 2018. Since the beginning of 2018, the centers have received a combined 2.8 million applications, of which 2.4 million were referred to the relevant institutions and responded.
Citations:
European Commission, Turkey 2018 Report, Brussels, 17.4.2018, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/20180417-turkey- report.pdf (accessed 1 November 2018)
World Justice Project, Open Government Index 2015 Report, http://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/ogi_2015.pdf (accessed 1 November 2018)
TBMM Başkanlığı Basın, Yayın ve Halkla İlişkiler Başkanlığı Bilgi Edinme Hakkının Kullanılması Bakımından 2017 Yılına İlişkin Değerlendirme,
https://www.tbmm.gov.tr/bilgiedinme/2017_raporu_baskanlik_aciklamasi.pdf (accessed 27 October 2018)
Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Başkanlığı, 2017 Yılı Bilgi Edinme Genel Raporu, https://www.tbmm.gov.tr/bilgiedinme/2017_yili_degerlendirme_raporu.pdf (accessed 27 October 2018)
“BİMER’e 12 yılda 12.5 milyon şikayet,” https://www.haberturk.com/bimer-e-12-yilda-125-milyon-sikayet-1863048 (accessed 27 October 2018)
“CİMER istatistikleri açıklandı,” https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/gunun-basliklari/cumhurbaskani-yardimcisi-oktay-on-ayda-cimere-2-milyon-784-bin-220-basvuru-ulasti/1299264, (accessed 27 October 2018)
3
---
---
 
Access to official information is not regulated by law; there are many restrictions of access, bureaucratic procedures and no or ineffective mechanisms of enforcement.
2
---
---
1
---
---
Back to Top