President Rousseff Signs Access to Information Law

21 November 2011

President Dilma Rousseff Nov. 18 signed into law a Brazilian access to information law.

The new law (in English and in Portuguese) will become effective in 180 days.

Rousseff vetoed two provisions: a mandatory notification to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in cases when access to information essential to safeguard human rights is denied and another concerning the composition of the Commission for Reassessment of Information.

Rousseff also signed a law creating a truth commission to investigate human rights abuses, including those committed during military rule in 1964-85. For more on this see post in Unredacted, a National Security Archive blog.

The access to information bill was approved by the Senate Oct. 25. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Looking Ahead

Brazilian journalist Fernando Rodrigues, a leading advocate for the bill, was interviewed by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas about the new law and the next steps toward a new culture of governmental transparency and access.

Rodrigues stressed the challenges to come, saying:

The law by itself doesn’t solve anything. Now starts the more difficult stage of bringing the law into practice. We have to see how the government is going to treat the new law and over the next six months civil society needs to make its demands heard. The law needs to detail what information is released with a request, government organizations need to start making their information available to the public, etc. All of this needs to be flushed out. It’s essential that associations from various sectors of society organize and encourage the public to make public information requests. The law will only be tested and refined when Brazilian citizens make requests.

Another very important step is training government employees across the government, from municipal, state and federal levels, so they know how to treat information and make it available to the public. This is a difficult task that will not be accomplished soon. It’s going to involve changing the mindset of thousands of public servants.

Addressing criticisms of the final product, Rodrigues stated:

The law’s not perfect; no perfect law exists. There’s never been unanimity behind a law. The big take away is that civil society was able to achieve a law with unprecedented scope, including even private businesses involved in public-private partnerships. You don’t see this in other places.

It’s going to be difficult for the culture of transparency to establish itself in the 5,600 municipalities and it’s difficult to image that 5,600 mayors and city councils are suddenly going to be paragons of transparency. But the law exists and citizens can make demands on their representatives.

So, the positive is much greater than the negative. It’s clear that no one should be so naive to think that tomorrow everything’s going to be different but the law is a powerful democratic tool to help shift the culture towards greater transparency.

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