Uruguay Proposals on FOI Law Considered Regressive.

16 September 2013

Uruguay is considering expanding the exemptions in its freedom of information law, with the Senate now working on government proposals being called “regressive” by groups fighting the changes.

Among other things, the bill would allow less access to documents used to develop policy and to evaluation documents.

The Uruguayan Senate is in the process of considering the changes. Representatives Chambers has already approved the government’s proposal. The Representatives also curtailed the review powers of the Access to Information Unit, Uruguay’s specialized agency to resolve disputes about access to information requests. The Unit will no longer be able to control state-owned enterprises among other public bodies.

Deliberative Process Secrecy

One new proposed exception would permit the government to withhold information if it has not yet made ??a decision or if it part of monitoring procedures.

Critics argue that this will limit participation in the deliberative process, putting decision-making in a “black box,” in the words of Declaration by opponents of the changes.

The reform would establish an exception for information “which could affect control, evaluation research or deliberation processes of public authorities, until the final decision is made,  taking into account that granting access to information could favor pressures on the formation of public authority’s will,” according to an unofficial translation.

Privacy for Application Information

A second modification would classify as proprietary or confidential all information included in applications sent in the government.

One proposed change, considered somewhat positive, would empower the current regulator to control the classification process.  The rule would require the government prove that releasing information would cause harm, but critics say the provision is not sufficiently specified according to international standards. The public interest test does not establish that the possible damage of releasing information should be actual, specific and likely.

The proposed changes need more consideration, according to critics, and should be discussed in the recent space for debate and citizen participation created through Uruguay’s participation in the Open Government Partnership.

Advocates Protest Changes

Civil society lead by the Centre for Access to Information (CAINFO) and DATA Uruguay are pressing to stop the changes and have set up an online campaign in (http://www.declaracion.uy/).

Edison Lanza Director of CAINFO said that “this reform goes against the Inter-American Access to Information Standards, and if allowed will create severe problems for requesters and the administration.”

Fabrizio Scrollini, a researcher   and member of DATA Uruguay said: “In the context of what Uruguay is doing in terms of Open Government this is really bad news. Uruguay has liberal tradition built on securing and expanding individual rights, not curtailing them. This reform is a serious mistake and its effects will come at a high price for the government and civil society alike”

The Uruguayan Ombudsman Institution voiced its concern about the proposals.  UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue has also issued a statement.

The Regional Alliance for Free Expression and Information Sept. 5 sent a letter expressing concern about the proposed.

Uruguay adopted the Law on Access to Public Information in 2008.

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