We bring together information on the legal frameworks for the right to information from more than 100 countries.

Requesters

THIS IS AN ARCHIVED PAGE. THE INFORMATION BELOW IS NOT REGULARLY UPDATED. LAST PARTIAL UPDATE IS FROM DECEMBER 2012. THE CURRENT UPDATED PAGE CAN BE FOUND HERE.

Overview

  • Many countries include in their constitutions a general principle guaranteeing equality (or at least non-discrimination) in the application of the law. Thus, arguably, in such countries it is not necessary to include a provision in the FOI law that specifies that there should be no discrimination on the basis of the requestor.
  • In many countries – including Australia, Canada, Hungary, Ireland, South Africa, and the United States -- reasons for a request may not be demanded. Consequently it should not be possible to discriminate between requesters who want to use the information for certain campaigns (e.g. the Greenpeace case) or for their own personal purposes.
  • In some countries (e.g. Uganda), the law goes further and specifically prohibits officials from taking their belief as to the manner in which the information will be used into account.
  • In India and Mexico, requests may be anonymous, which leads to the fact that discrimination is not possible.
  • At the same time, in some countries – e.g., the Netherlands and seemingly New Zealand - the identity of the requester may be taken into account, either by law or implicitly, and 'difficult' requesters may be treated differently.
  • Different countries' approaches also vary as to whether citizens and non-citizens are granted the right to information (see table).

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Country Information

The below country information relies heavily on Toby Mendel's publicationFreedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey, UNESCO, 2008.

Council of Europe

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Azerbaijan

  • Right to access information applies to everyone and is not limited by nationality or residence.
  • Article 50 (I) of the 1995 Constitution provides that, “Every person shall have the right to legally seek, get, pass, prepare and spread information.”
  • One of the purposes of the RTI law, set out in Article 1, is to “ensure […] unrestricted and equal access to information”.
  • Article 2.3. of the RTI law provides more specifically that “anyone applying for information is entitled to obtain it freely, and on an unrestricted and equal basis, if the public body holds that information”
  • The purpose for requiring information does not need to be specified. In fact, Article 2.5. provides that it may be used for any purpose, including commercial.

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Australia

  • Reasons for requiring information may not be taken into account.
  • Freedom of Information Act (Commonwealth) 1982, s.11(2) reads:
  • (2) Subject to this Act, a person's right of access is not affected by: (a) any reasons the person gives for seeking access; or (b) the agency's or Minister's belief as to what are his or her reasons for seeking access.

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Bulgaria

  • Article 41(2) of the 1991 Constitution provides the right to access information for citizens.
  • Article 4 of the Access to Public Information Act extends this right to “foreign citizens” and “individuals with no citizenship” as well as to “legal entities”
  • Article 6 sets out the principles of access to information which include “securing conditions for equal access”.

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Canada

  • Identity or profession of the requester, any previous interactions with the requester, or the intended or potential use of the information should not influence the decision of disclosure. [1]
  • The federal Deputy Information Commissioner articulated the same principle when he explained his office's approach to the investigation of complaints before the House of Commons Justice Committee in 1998:

[W]e try not to get entangled in the purpose of the request. . . . For example, if we thought one person needed the information more quickly than another and we organized our own resources that way, we would be making mistakes. We take everybody as though they're the same. . . We try to encourage the department to obey the law, and it doesn't matter what the purpose is. [2]

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Chile

  • Article 10 of the RTI Law provides the right of access to information for everyone without any limitations;
  • Moreover, article 11(g) of the same law acknowledges the principle of non-discrimination with regard the applicants filing the requests;
  • The same article states that reasons for the request are not required.

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Colombia

  • Pursuant to the article 12 of the RTI law, every person regardless the citizenship has a right to access information;
  • As for the purpose requirement, the law is silent and does not regulate it.

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Dominican Republic

  • Pursuant to the article 1 of  the RTI law, the right to access to information is not limited by the citizenship and thus everyone has the right to request “complete, truthful, adequate and timely information”;
  • However, Article 7 of the RTI law in addition to other data requires applicant to specify reasons of asking information. In case of non-compliance with the above mentioned provision the applicant will be notified and assisted with sufficient help.

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Ecuador

  • Legislation regulating the issue in question seems contradictory. According to Article 18(2) of the Constitution of Ecuador, everyone has the right to access information. In addition, Article 1 of the RTI law considers te right to access information as a right of the people. At the same time, article 4 of the same law seems to limit its citizens.
  • Although the law does not explicitly state that applicants are not obliged to provide the reason for asking for information, this can be concluded from the general principles and the objectives of the law.

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Estonia

  • The ATI law stipulates that public information has to be provided to everyone. Article 4 of the Public Information Act reads: “Access to information shall be ensured for every person in the quickest and easiest manner possible”.
  • However, Article 23 gives an opportunity for the holder of information to deny access to persons whose legal capacity has been restricted by the court. There is no basis for applying such a restriction and though never contested, this stipulation would most probably be considered unconstitutional by the court.

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Guatemala

  • Article 5 of the RTI law stipulates that the right to request and receive information can be exercised by “individual or legal person or private”. Additionally, article 16 of the same law states that “all persons” have this right. Given that there is no explicit limitation by citizenship, it is assumed that there is no such limitation;
  • The law does not explicitly require the indication of the purpose of the request.

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Honduras

  • The RTI law contains several provisions, regulating the issue differently. For instance, article 4 states that every natural or legal person has the right to request information, it is supplement by the article 3 which refers to the right to access public information as the right of every citizen, whereas article 15  which is about the form of delivery of information mentions just citizens;
  • In Honduras, there is no obligation to specify the reasons for a request.

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Hungary

  • The ATI law doesn’t contain a special provision prohibiting discrimination but does contain several provisions that prohibit disclosure of the personal identification data of the requesters:
    • Art. 26 (1) "Bodies or individuals undertaking state or local government duties, as well as other duties defined in the relevant legislation (hereinafter jointly referred to as body undertaking public duties) must be ensured the opportunity to provide access to data of public interest and data public on grounds of public interest to anyone requesting such data under their control, with the exception of cases defined within the scope of the present Act." [emphasis added]
    • Art. 28 (1) "Requests for accessing data of public interest may be made verbally, submitted in writing or electronically by anyone." [emphasis added]
    • Art. 28 (2) "Should it not be otherwise regulated by law, the personal data of the applicant submitting the request may only be controlled should this be necessary for processing the request and paying the fee charged for making copies. The personal data of the applicant must be immediately deleted after the request is processed and the fee is paid."

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India

  • According to Article 3 of the ATI law “all citizens shall have the right to information.” Thus, the right to access information is limited to citizens only. The right is also geographically limited (Article 1 (2)), not applying to the State of Jammu and Kashmir which have a separate ATI law.
  • The reason for requiring information can not be a basis for denying access and personal details of the requester cannot be asked for.
  • Right to Information Act 2005, Section 6(2) reads:
  • An applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him.

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Ireland

  • The reason for requiring information can not be a basis for denying access: s.8(4) of the FOI Act 1997 reads:

In deciding whether to grant or refuse to grant a request under section 7 - (a) any reason that the requester gives for the request, and (b) any belief or opinion of the head as to what are the reasons of the requester for the request, shall be disregarded.

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Jamaica

  • The ATI Act gives the right of access to official documents to “every person”, thus not setting any limitations such as nationality or citizenship.
  • Article 6(3) specifies that no reasons can be required for asking for access to documents.

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Japan

  • Article 3 of the ATI law gives the right to request information to “any person”. However, the request has to include the name and address of the applicant (Article 4(1) which makes indirect discrimination possible.
  • On the other hand a statement of reasons for requests is not required (Article 4(1)).

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Kyrgyzstan

  • Article 3 of the Law on Access to Information Held by State Bodies and Local Self-Government Bodies ensures the right to access information to everyone and states that the “State shall defence the right of each person to seek, receive, research, produce, impart and disseminate information.”
  • Article 9 of the ATI law stipulates that the requester of information is “not obligated to motivate the reason of his/her request.” However, the courts tend to reject appeals of non-disclosure of information based on the fact that the applicant has no specific legal interest in the information.

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Mexico

  • According to the FOI law, request for access to information may be filed by any person but the name and address of the requester need to be specified (Article 40).
  • Article 40 also specifies in rather strong language that, “Under no circumstance, can the information delivery be conditioned on the statement of the reason for requesting it and neither shall it be necessary to prove the reason for interest in the information” (Article 40).

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Netherlands

  • Greenpeace experienced discrimination when submitting info requests regarding dealings of a government-sponsored business operation. They received documents which were 95% blacked out. In response to their complaint, the government argued that the business secrets exception applied to the information. More specifically, they argued that Greenpeace has in the past caused other companies in the same sector to go out of business through its campaigns.
  • The Wob (ATI law) does not explicitly prohibit such discrimination.

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New Zealand

  • Neither the giving of reasons by requesters, nor the supply of the identity of the requester to the third party are mandated by the statute, but are how the Ombudsmen have suggested the law might best operate in order to enable reasonable decision making by public authorities and third parties.
  • If Ombudsmen have the power to review conditions on release, it implies that authorities have the power to attach conditions to release, which in turn implies (to the Ombudsmen) that it's possible that the identity of the requester can have a bearing on decisions relating to disclosure.

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Nicaragua

  • The RTl law guarantees the right of access to everyone: nationals, foreigners, natural and legal persons;
  • It is interesting that in relation to the right to information, the RTI law contains principles such as principle of access, principle of publicity, principle of transparency and so on;
  • The law explicitly excludes requiring the purpose specification while asking for the information. The absence of reasons and purposes cannot be considered as basis for refusal. However, applicants are obliged to provide their full name and address.

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Panama

  • Article 2 of the RTI law stipulates that anyone has a right to request information. Moreover, 1(2) of the same law recognizes it as the right of anyone to obtain the information. Furthermore, article 8 states any person can request information regarding the functions and activities of public bodies. The term Person on its turn entails natural and legal person with no specific limitations, so supposedly this right is not limited to citizens;
  • The RTI law also provides principles governing the right to freedom of information.
  • As for the purpose requirement, according to the law, reasons for the request  are not mandatory to provide.

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Peru

  • Peru is an interesting country in the sense that already the Constitution not only guarantees a right to request information but also specifies that the cause for asking such information does not need to be specified (Article 2.5.).
  • Article 7 of the Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information provides the right to information to every individual. Additionally, Article 13 of the same law specifically provides that the identity of the applicant cannot be the cause for denying information.

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South Africa

  • The preamble to the Promotion of Access to Information Act recognizes that “everyone has the right of access to any information held by the State”.
  • The reason for requiring information can not be a basis for denying access and neither can the information officer’s opinion of those reasons impact the decision (Article 11(3)).

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Sweden

  • Right to access to information is guaranteed and regulated in Sweden by the founding documents of the Swedish Constitution and no separated ATI law exists.
  • The Instrument of Government as well as the Freedom of the Press Act provide freedom of information to every citizen of Sweden. Thus, the text of the law seems to limit access to information to the condition of citizenship. However, in practice, everyone can claim access without needing to prove citizenship
  • Public authorities cannot inquire about the identity of the person requiring information and neither can it ask to provide the purpose for requesting information. The only exception is the case when such inquiry is needed to decide whether the document is to be disclosed or not (Article 14). This could be the case when one asks access to a document that is secret but only wants to use it for certain purposes that do not pose harm.

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Thailand

  • According to Section 11 of the Official Information Act the request of any person for official information, has to be satisfied. However, Section 9 of the same Act specifies that “extent to which an alien may enjoy the right under this section shall be provided by the Ministerial Regulation”. Thus, it is not clear whether the right to access information is restricted to only citizens.

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Uganda

  • Both the Constitution (Article 41) and the Access to Information Act (Article 5(1)) guarantee right of access information to every citizen. Thus, citizenship seems to be a requirement for accessing information in Uganda.
  • Similarly to South Africa, the reason for requesting information as well as the information officer’s opinion about such a reason, cannot affect the decision to disclose information (Article 6).

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United Kingdom

  • Article 1(1) of the Freedom of Information Act gives the right to request information to any person. Name and address of the requester have to be specified (Article 8(1)(b)) which leaves an opportunity for indirect discrimination but the majority if ATI laws require such information.
  • The ATI law does not specifically provide that reasons for requiring information cannot be asked for but this can be derived from the fact that reasons are not included among the requirements for asking information, specified in Article 8(1).

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United States

  • FOI requests can be made by any person and for any purpose.
  • FOIA confers a right on “any person” to request and obtain records held by the government, subject to published regulations regarding time, place, fees, and procedure. [3]
  • There is no distinction in the statute between the “person” entitled to make a FOIA request and the “complainant” entitled to sue for judicial enforcement of that right under (Article 552(a)(4)(B)).
  • Further, FOIA permits requests to be made for any purpose.
  • Congress has repeatedly emphasized this intention.  Thus, the 1996 amendments to the Freedom of Information Act include congressional findings that “the purpose of [FOIA is to] . . . establish and enable enforcement of the right of any person to obtain access to the records of [agencies of the Federal Government], subject to statutory exemptions, for any public or private purpose.”
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Uruguay

  • Article 3 of the ATI Act specifically states that the right of access is guaranteed to everyone regardless the nationality or the nature of the person. Additionally, article 25 also stipulates that any “physical or legal person” can file a request.
  • There is no provision requiring the purpose of the request. In other words, the purpose of the request is not among mandatory data that has to be provided.

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[1] Access to Information: Making it Work for the Canadians. Report of the Access to Information Review Task Force, 2002, p. 131)

[2] Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, 1998

[3] Meredith Fuchs Judging Secrets: The Role Courts Should Play in Preventing Unnecessary Secrecy, Administrative Law Review, Vol 58, nr 1, Winter 2006; 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3); cf. United States Dep't of Justice v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749, 771 (1989) (“the identity of the requesting party has no bearing on the merits of his or her FOIA request”).