Hungarian Groups Criticize Government Proposals

9 April 2012

Hungarian groups are criticizing draft legislation they say would undermine access to information by setting charges for the reuse of public information.

A bill of submitted to the Hungarian Parliament by the government of the country “makes national FOI legislation highly unpredictable,” according to a statement by HCLU and K-Monitor, major Hungarian NGOs working for transparency and freedom of information.

The bill seekss to harmonize Hungarian public sector information laws with the 2003/98/EC Directive on the reuse of public sector information, although that directive is soon to be revised due to a proposal of the European Commission, according to the groups.

HCLU and K-Monitor ask legislative authorities to withdraw their draft proposal due to the following reasons.

1. The draft law confuses “public sector information” and “public interest information” thus deteriorating existing freedom of information regulations.
2. Access to information held by public authorities is free and only necessary reproduction costs shall be charged. However, the draft bill makes access to public interest information subject to a possible reimbursement based on a “reasonable profit margin”.
3. Public interest data has no limitations in terms of re-use however the bill stipulates an “agreement on re-use” between the respective public authority and the data requester, thus data re-use may be subject to certain binding conditions.
4. The draft proposal is an infringement to legal certainty: it depends solely on the statement of the data requestor whether limitations on free distribution shall be made alongside with a profit-orientated reimbursement charged by the public authority, or general rules of FOI – free access and unlimited re-use – will be applied. The bill violates the rights of legally uneducated citizens unable to pay a lawyer since they may be forced to make unintentional statements.
5. The bill is meant to serve as harmonization of the respective EC Directive however as such, the draft law is out-of-date: the European Commission has already accepted a proposal on the revision of the PSI Directive which “establishes the principle that public bodies should not be allowed to charge more than costs triggered by the individual request for data (marginal costs); in practice this means most data will be offered for free or virtually for free, unless duly justified.” Thus the Hungarian draft law on public service information is regarded as obsolete even before coming into existence.
6. The proposal violates formal requirements on legal limitations when it gives authorization to a regulatory restriction on freedom of information. The bill is formally unconstitutional.

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