We bring together information on the legal frameworks for the right to information from more than 100 countries.
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Central, State and Local Governments

last modified Sep 13, 2013 10:15 PM

THIS IS AN ARCHIVED PAGE.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

Most ATI laws adopted by countries in the past decade – other than countries with federal systems – apply at a minimum to “government and administration at the national, regional or local level.” This language is included in Article 1 of the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents.

The laws of 25 of 26 European countries surveyed – all except Germany – apply to all three of these levels: Albania, Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Countries with Federal Systems

Most RTI laws of countries with federal systems or that grant considerable autonomy to sub-national government entities – including Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Mexico and the United States – apply only to the federal (central) government. However, the RTI law of a few countries with federal systems or autonomous regions are applicable to all levels of government, most notably, India, Portugal and the United Kingdom (not including Scotland, which opted to enact its own FOIA and establish its own Information Commissioner). Moreover, the federal laws of Austria and Mexico expressly require the state and local governments to adopt their own laws; this requirement was reinforced in Mexico by a constitutional amendment in 2007. Most states (or provinces) have adopted laws that apply to local as well as state agencies even in countries where not required to do so (e.g. Australia, Canada, Germany, the United States). What follows is more information about RTI laws in countries with federal systems.

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Australia

The federal FOI Act 1982 provides for access to documents held by Commonwealth (national government) agencies created after December 1, 1977. All six states and two territories now have freedom of information laws.

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Austria

The 1987 Auskunftspflichtgesetz (Federal Law on the Duty to Furnish Information) obliges federal authorities to disclose information. Article 1 requires the Länder (states) and municipalities to adopt ATI laws: “The organs of the Länder, of the municipalities as well as of the self administering agencies as regulated by Länder legislation, shall give information on matters within the scope of their activities, to the extent not in conflict with a statutory duty of secrecy.”

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Canada

Canada is a federal state with ten provinces, each with wide-ranging powers, and three territories. The federal Access to Information Act applies to all federal government institutions. All of the provinces have ATI laws. The laws of the common law provinces (all except Quebec) are similar. Quebec’s Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information (Loi sur l'accès aux documents des organismes publics et sur la protection des renseignements personnels) and the Act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector (Loi sur la protection des renseignements personnels dans le secteur privé) provide interesting models, especially for francophone countries.

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Germany

Although Germany has a federal FOI law, the law does not require the Länder to adopt laws recognizing the right to information. As of December 2008, eight Länder had adopted such laws: Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommenn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein. When Germany ratifies the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents, Länder will be required to adopt such laws, pursuant to Article 3.

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India

The RTI Act 2005 applies to the central (federal), state and local governments, including panchayats and municipalities. The Act applies to all States except Jammu and Kashmir. However, people living in Jammu and Kashmir can seek and receive information from the Central Government, public sector enterprises and banks and all government departments in other states except those belonging to their own State. They may use the Jammu and Kashmir Freedom of Information Act 2004, to seek information from the departments of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir

The December 2004 version of the RTI Bill applied only to public authorities at the central (federal) level. Thanks to civil society advocacy, the Parliamentary Standing Committee vetting the draft legislation recommended expansion of the Bill’s scope to include state governments as well. These recommendations were accepted by the Central Government and are in the version of the bill that was finally adopted.

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Mexico

The LFTAI (Federal ATI Law) applies directly to all federal agencies and institutions. It also requires Mexico’s states to enact their own protections of the right. (It should be noted that state laws apply to local as well as state governments and agencies.) However, by 2006, only some 20 states had enacted ATI laws and many of these were weak. In June 2007, a second paragraph was added to Article 6 of the Constitution requiring all 32 states and the Federal District to enact or revise their ATI laws within a one-year period so as to meet certain specified standards. For these standards, see section on Constitutional Protections: Mexico.

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United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s FOI Act applies to central government departments and agencies and local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A separate information act applies in Scotland.

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United States

The FOIA applies only to national departments and agencies in the Executive Branch. The states and the District of Columbia each have their own access to information provisions governing state and local records.

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