Spanish Law Effective; Problems Affect First Day

11 December 2014

On the first day that Spain’s access to information law (English version) was effective, Dec. 10, users experienced difficulty using the online request system, according to the lobbying group Access Info Europe.

The group reported that it could not manage to make a request. Also, requesters from some EU countries were redirected to websites in their countries while the nationals of other EU countries, or outside the EU, are not given any option, nor are those from outside the EU.

“The first challenge for the public is not administrative silence but is even more basic: submitting a request!” commented Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.

“The second challenge is who to turn to for help: the director of the new Transparency Council has been nominated but not yet the members of the Council, and the body is not up and running and so cannot receive appeals,” Darbishire added.

Access Info Europe welcomed a Dec. 9 press release from Spain’s General Council of the Judiciary, the independent constitutional body which oversees the judicial power, announcing that it will not insist on requesters identifying themselves given that “access to information is a fundamental, universal, right” and adding that the government’s transparency obligations override any requirement that might be put on citizens who request information.

“This is the very first time that any official body in Spain has recognised the fundamental nature of the right of access to information,” stated Darbishire. “It’s particularly significant that this recognition comes from the body which represents judges and other jurists, and we hope that in the future such thinking will be reflected in court decisions over the right of access to information, something which has not been the case thus far,” she added.

Transparency Portal Cumbersome

Access Info Europe said the transparency portal was “disappointing with poor organisation of information, a particularly ineffective search function, and much data in PDFs rather than reusable formats.”

“The government reports having spent €300,000 on the platform, that 80 people have been working on it, and that it contains 50 GB of information,” the group said. “In spite of this, initial analysis of the content indicates that much information is missing, and that data prior to 2013 or 2014 is often not yet uploaded, making comparative analysis for journalists putting together stories very difficult.”

The biggest disappointment for the Access Info Europe team is that during the first day of having this law in force, not one of the team had been able to submit a request due to the complicated system of registering with the transparency portal and obtaining an electronic identification code.

Calls to the government help line recommended that we visit an office of the tax authorities to obtain an electronic ID number. The government during the afternoon of 10 December publicly recognised that people were finding it hard to register with the “clave electronica” electronic key system.

Foreign Requests Allowed, in Theory

By law, Darbishire told, requests from non-foreigners are permitted, but online there are problems and no explanations yet.

“So far we don’t really understand their strategy, she said, explaining: “The problem is that they have no way of verifying the ID number of foreign citizens. What is going on in Spain is that it’s not enough to have given your ID number, you have to have a digital code which confirms that a Spanish authority has checked that the ID number corresponds with a person by that name, and that it’s not made up. If that makes sense.”

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