A civil society alliance wants to carry the traffic light coalition to the hunt for the planned strengthening of freedom of information. On Tuesday, it presented a draft federal transparency law that would require government agencies and state-owned companies to publish secret contracts, meetings between lobbyists and members of the government, and internal reports online free of charge. This is intended to ensure that citizens, journalists and activists gain an early insight into the actions of politics and administration and can react to them.
Experts from the organizations Mehr Demokratie, FragDenStaat, Transparency International Germany, the German Society for Freedom of Information, the Society for Freedom Rights, Lobbycontrol, Bundestagenwatch.de and the research network worked out the draft. Interested parties have one month until July 8 to comment on the paper online. The organizers of the initiative then want to explain which suggestions they will adopt. In the fall, the “completed draft law” should then form the basis for a “large-scale joint campaign”.
A transparency law, such as that first enshrined in Hamburg, allows all citizens access to administrative documents. Exceptions are, for example, specially protected information, for which personal data protection applies, for example. In contrast to the Freedom of Information Acts (IFGs) that already exist at the level of the federal government and many states, such more extensive requirements not only oblige the authorities to release documents and to inspect files on request, but also to publish them automatically on the Internet in a citizen-friendly manner.
In the coalition agreement, the traffic light government alliance agreed to introduce a transparency law at federal level during this legislative period. Work is said to begin in 2023. Allianz wants to accompany and drive this process forward: All citizens now have the opportunity to express their opinions and wishes about the project in advance.
Federal transparency portal
According to the draft, in addition to laws, legal ordinances and administrative regulations, the publication obligation should also include guidelines, decrees, orders, circulars and announcements as well as drafts. Articles of incorporation, expert opinions, geo- and mobility data, maps and the “source code of computer programs that have been created by public authorities or on behalf of public authorities as individual software in whole or in part” would also be recorded.
An electronic information system will be set up to meet the requirements. This federal transparency portal should contain interfaces “that enable automated provision of information and automated access by third parties”.
Transparency with exceptions
According to paragraph 15, federal authorities could reject applications for the release of documents that have not yet been proactively published if the disclosure of the information would have significant adverse effects on international relations, defense or important protected assets of public security. The conduct of ongoing legal proceedings, criminal, administrative offense or disciplinary investigations, a person’s right to a fair trial and the state of the environment and its components must also be protected. In all cases, however, there is a balancing clause. Access to files would have to be granted if “the public interest in disclosure outweighs it”.
According to paragraph 17, personal data are subject to the right to access “if and for as long as the person concerned has consented to access to the information or the public interest in the disclosure” prevails. The same should apply to business secrets. Intellectual property rights must also be protected. Entire areas such as secret services would no longer be exempted from the right to freedom of information, as has been the case with the federal IFG. The freedom of information officers in Germany had previously put pressure in this direction.
“Normally, the ministerial bureaucracy writes the draft laws. But that’s exactly what needs to be made more transparent,” explains Manfred Redelfs from the Recherche network. “That’s why it’s good when civil society doesn’t leave the drafting of a draft to those who have become accustomed to the principle of official secrecy in the past.” Marie Jünemann from Mehr Demokratie emphasized that a real transparency law can only be developed together with the citizens. It is a “social cross-cutting issue”.
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