Brazilian Senate Approves Access to Information Bill

26 October 2011

The Brazilian Senate Oct. 25 approved an access to information bill after months of delay during which opponents sought to weaken it.

President Dilma Rousseff is expected to sign the bill (in English and in Portuguese), which will implement the right to access provision in the Constitution after eight years of effort to get such a bill passed.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, former President Fernando Collor, sought to make major cutbacks to the legislation, including perpetual secrecy for some documents, but his efforts to pass a substitute bill were defeated on a  43-9 vote.  The House-passed bill had been approved by three other Senate committees.

Applicable to federal, state and municipal governments, state-owned enterprises and some nonprofts, the legislation sets out proactive disclosure obligations, establishes a mechanism for making specific requests for information, and sets standards for releasing archived materials.

The law does not create an independent information commission, placing the responsibility for handling appeals with the Office of the Comptroller General. The legislative and judicial branches are mandated to create separate appeals procedures. A special commission will review and revise information which is classified.

Information relating to human rights violations by public officials will have to be disclosed under the new law.

The bill passed was the same version that was approved by the lower house of Congress in April 2010 but was delayed in the Senate. (See previous reports.)

Broad Scope

The new law will apply to the executive, legislative and judicial branches.  

In addition, it covers “autonomous institutios connected to the State, public foundations, public companies, mixed corporations and other entities controlled directly or indirectly by the Federal Government, the States, the Federal District and Municipalities.” 

Further covered are “non-profit private entities which receive, in order to perform actions of public interest, public funds directly from the budget or through social subventions, management contract, partnership term, agreements, deals, adjustments, or other instruments of the same kind.”

Requests for documents are supposed to be processed in 20 days, with the possibility of a 10 day extension. Requesters will only be charged the costs of reproduction and there is a provision for no charges depending on the requester’s economic situation.

The “restictions” secton details eight justifications for non-disclosure related to national security. Another section is intended to protect personal information.

Documents will be automatically declassified on a schedule depending on their type: Ultrasecret, 25 years; Secret, 15 years; and  Reserved, 5 years. The secret category documents could have their confidentiality renewed once.

Violations of the law are to be punished by “at least, a suspension,” and possibly more: warnings, fines, and termination included.  

The bill will go into effect 180 days after publication.

Open Data Provisions

Official bodies will be obliged to create a citizens’ information service, promote public participation through public hearings or consultations and use the internet as a way to disclose information.

Information will have to be issued in user-friendly electronic formats.  Content search tools are to allow access in an “objective, transparenct, clear and easily understandable way.”  The websites should “enable the recording of reports in various electonic formats, including open and nonproprietary, such as spreadsheets and text, to make the analysis of information easier.”

The designs further should “enable automated access by external systems in open, structured and machine-readable formats.” The details of the formats should be disclosed, according to the new law,  the integrity of the information should be ensured. The information should be updated and the website should provide ways to communicate with the website sponsor.  

Proactive Disclosure

At a minimum, public bodies will be required to publish on the internet:

– Records of all transfers or transfers of financial resources;

– Records of expenditures;

– Information of bids, including bids and results;

– All contracts;

– General data for the monitoring of programs;

– Stocks, projects and works of agencies and entities;

– Answers to frequently asked questions.

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