Appeals Body Says World Bank Violated Access Policy

26 June 2014

By Toby McIntosh

The World Bank violated its access to information policy in several ways when it denied a request for information from FreedomInfo.org, according to a decision by the three outside experts who decide appeals.

The Access to Information Appeals Board said the Bank must disclose the requested documents – the information requests sent to the Bank in October 2013.

The Appeals Board rejected all of the Bank’s arguments against releasing the information. The Board wrote a seven-page decision dated June 11.

The panel said the Bank was wrong to completely deny all access to the documents when it could easily have deleted (redacted) any specific information covered by exemptions in Bank’s Access to Information Policy.

Not a Blanket Request

The Appeals Board also criticized other Bank justifications for the denial, which FreedomInfo.org appealed.

The Bank had contended that the request was an unreasonable “blanket request.”

The Appeals Board flatly disagreed, saying the FreedomInfo.org request, for one month’s worth of letters, was “very specific.”

`Erroneous Test’ Applied

Looking at another justification, the Appeals Board said the Bank “applied an erroneous test” when it applied the Bank’s policy designed to protect the safety and security of Bank employees and other individuals.

Instead of denying all access, the Bank should have used “case-by case” inquiries, the decision says. The decision says the Bank “has not demonstrated any basis to conclude that disclosure of the information requested would compromise or would be likely to endanger the safety of any persons.”

 The board elaborated: “If there was any well-founded and reasonable apprehension of harm relating to the circumstances of any specific request the Bank could, by contacting the requesters in those presumably few instances, have sought to establish if there was any basis to fear endangerment.” 

The Appeals Board flatly rejected a contention that personal information about Bank staff could be disclosed because of the way the Bank organizes its information case management. Noting that such information was not requested and could be redacted, the Board commented that “the process of extraction is straightforward and not onerous.”

Redaction Should Be Used, Panel Says

The Bank had denied all access to the requested letters, saying it was under no obligation to redact information, but the Appeals Board disagreed.

The board pointed to a July 12, 2010, interpretation of the Bank’s access policy that says the Bank may redact “if it chooses to do so.”

The Appeals Board said “the Bank has a duty to consider redaction in appropriate cases.’

In the context of the request, the Board said “the process of redaction would have been straightforward and not onerous.”

Documents Produced; Redacted

The Bank sent FreedomInfo.org the June 11 decision on June 25. At the same time it provided copies of the request letters, with the names and addresses of the requesters redacted.

Several days prior to forwarding the decision, the Bank asked FreedomInfo.org if it wanted the full text of the information inquiries, noting that this “will require the Bank to follow-up with each requester individually on whether they have safety, security and/or confidentiality concerns, which may further delay fulfilling the request.”

FreedomInfo.org said it could not respond without having seen the decision. The Bank sent the June 11 decision on June 25, along with a file containing the letters, with names and personal information redacted.

FreedomInfo.org is considering the adequacy of the response.

The Bank in recent months has begun publishing a digest of access to information requests, without names of requesters. (See previous FreedomInfo.org article.)

A summary of a request is only disclosed if the requester agrees. No names are provided and the full request letter is not made available.

The three members of the Appeals Board are: Richard Calland, Associate Professor of Public Law, and the Director of Democratic Governance and Rights Unit, Faculty of Law, at the University of Cape Town; Kevin Dunion, Director of the Centre for Freedom of Information, at the University of Dundee, School of Law; and Ramojus Kraujelis, Chief Archivist of Lithuania.

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ABOUT IFTI WATCH

In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
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