The 40th Conference of Freedom of Information Commissioners in Germany (IFK) has called on the legislature to reform the Federal Freedom of Information Act (IFG) in the next legislative period and to develop it into a modern transparency law with a transparency register. “Information is the basis of a democracy,” they justify their initiative. “A democratic state cannot exist without free and as well-informed public opinion as possible.”
Overarching transparency law – far more than just inspecting files
In the revised set of standards, the IFG and the Environmental Information Act (UIG) would have to be merged “in order to make the information requirements clearer and more citizen-friendly,” emphasized the representatives of the federal and state governments in a meeting adopted on Wednesday Resolution. A uniform, overarching transparency law would increase awareness, user-friendliness and enforcement of all information access laws.
“The information published in the transparency register should include, in particular, cabinet resolutions and their associated cabinet submissions, contracts of public interest, reports, studies and key company data on state holdings,” the resolution states. The publication of further data should be expressly permitted. So far, Hamburg and Rhineland-Palatinate have a transparency law that goes beyond the mere inspection of files. The Berlin House of Representatives advises you relevant draft, the but could backfire, according to critics.
Punish violations of the right to freedom of information
According to the resolution, a clause is to be included in the law according to which information that has been made available upon individual request can also be published in the register (“Access for one = access for all”). The prerequisite is that there is a public interest in such a publication. In addition, the principle of “freedom of information by design” should be introduced. Requirements for inspection of files would have to be taken into account right from the start when designing IT systems and organizational processes. The Federal Commissioner should also be able to remedy violations of the freedom of information right by order.
According to the resolution, the broad exceptions of entire administrative sectors and authorities in the IFG should be scrutinized, “because some reasons for exclusion are superfluous or overlap”. They should be reduced and harmonized. A general weighing of interests between information and confidentiality interests is necessary as an additional corrective.
Secret services should no longer be allowed to remain silent
The IFK appeals in parallel in one further resolution to the legislators of the federal and state governmentsto abolish the area exceptions for the protection of the constitution and to limit the corresponding passage to the protection of specific security issues in individual cases. “More transparency strengthens trust in the constitution protection authorities and increases their legitimacy,” they emphasize. Even if information gathering measures are mostly subject to secrecy, this does not mean “that your entire activity inevitably has to be non-transparent”.
Even now, the domestic secret services would have to announce to the press about “topics and participants in background discussions, even against the will of the authorities”, explain the commissioners. Citizens also have a fundamental right to information according to the environmental information laws. It is therefore not clear “why they are allowed to remain silent on relevant general questions about the right to freedom of information”.
Appoint a representative for freedom of information
In a it reads the third resolution, All public bodies should appoint officers for freedom of information, “as is already mandatory for data protection”. This is already a legal requirement in Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia. This is intended to promote the right to access information. The public authorities could help, for example, if questions arise about the interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act or about proactive publications.
According to the IFK, it would also make sense if the experts made it clear internally that a request for inspection of files could not be qualified as a “simple request”, but had to be processed in a timely manner. Furthermore, a coordination of incoming requests for information is expedient, which ultimately “helps to make work easier” for the authorities.