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Videocable Rivera S.A. and Others v. Communications Services Regulatory Unit

Case number:
1-81/2011
Country:
Uruguay
Date of decision:
3 March 2013
Court / Arbiter:
Supreme Court ( Supreme )

Relevant law :
Constitution, Article 28 (right to private correspondence);
Law Number 18.381 on Right of Access to Public Information, Articles 2 and 4 ( ATI Law, Constitution )

Decision:

Under the Law on Right of Access to Public Information (ATI law), disclosure by the Communications Services Regulatory Unit of the number of subscribers to a television company’s services does not violate the constitutional right to privacy.


Keywords:
Commercial confidentiality (including financial/economic interests of private parties or public authorities)
Privacy (harm to private interests, including life, health, safety)
Public interest (including public interest override, information of public interest)
RTI law

Case details:

Facts

In 2010, the Uruguayan Press Association (APU) sought information from the Communications Services Regulatory Unit (URSEC) on the number of subscribers to Videocable Rivera and other cable television companies in order to inform union wage negotiations with those companies. URSEC refused to provide the data on the grounds that the information is proprietary and would violate the right to private correspondence under Article 28 of the Constitution. APU challenged that decision and a lower court ordered the information to be disclosed.

The cable television companies appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that Articles 2 and 4 of the ATI Law are unconstitutional because they define public information as  “all information” in the possession of (Article 2) or under the control of (Article 4) a state actor without exception. Because the number of subscribers is sensitive business information that would interfere with business strategies and would violate the privacy of their subscribers if disclosed, the companies argued that disclosure would violate their rights to protect personal information under Article 28 of the Constitution and their rights under various international laws and treaties respecting the right to privacy.

Decision

The Supreme Court first held that the companies “did not develop” the facts sufficiently to show that Articles 2 and 4 of the ATI Law are unconstitutional. The Court held that this was “reason enough to reject the petition” of the cable companies.

Nevertheless, the Court went on to address the substantive legal questions and acknowledged a tension between “the right to protect private information and the right to access public information.” The court emphasized that “there are no absolute rights” other than the right to life. All other rights must be regulated by “reasons of common interest.”  The ATI law “guarantees the right to information, which is implicit in diverse national and international texts as a facet of the liberties of thought, opinion and expression.” This right must be interpreted in harmony with constitutional principles such as Article 28 and the right to protect sensitive or private personal information.

Here, the court held that the law “does not infringe the right of individuals to protect their personal data” because records of the number of subscribers to a cable TV service held by URSEC “do not qualify as either sensitive or  private.” Because the information involves a service subject to public control and regulation, “the public interest in the activities of the plaintiffs is clear.” Although the companies did not consent to disclosure and the law expresses a preference that public agencies seek and obtain consent before disclosing information, the court found that the companies did not have a legitimate reason to object to disclosure. The Court found that making this information public would not generate “any risk” for the companies, and thusordered the information to be disclosed.

Resources:

Judgment of the Court.