Bulgarian Assembly Amends Access to Information Act

16 December 2015

The Bulgarian National Assembly Nov. 26 adopted amendments to the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) to enhance proactive disclosure, encourage electronic requests, and facilitate re-use of information.

The amendments introduce an extended list of 17 categories of information subject to proactive online publication replacing the current four (Art. 15), according to Alexander Kashumov, Head of Legal Team,
Access to Information Programme, a nongovernment group that advocated for the amendments.

“An explicit duty is introduced to publish any information that has been provided on request more than three times,” Kashumov said. Public bodies will be obliged to publish online information of public interest such as data related to risks to the citizens’ life, health or security, property supplementing its current announcement by other means (Art. 14). Annual reviews, deadlines and sanctions are prescribed.

The amendments further guarantee that citizens can file e-requests with no need of electronic signature.

“The legal change responds to the malpractice of some public authorities to require the use of such signature,” according to Kashumov. Public bodies can be asked to send documents by e-mail or to refer to an URL where they are uploaded.

There will also be a possibility for filing e-requests via a government maintained web platform, where the responses of the public bodies and the documents provided will be publicly available.

Presumption of Third Party Consent

The current law provides for a procedure for public authority to ask a third party to give consent for the disclosure of requested information that affects it,” Kashumov said.

He continued: “In such cases a third party’s lack of response within 14 days is considered a dissent and the public body is obliged to provide only partial access. After the amendments the lack of response will be presumed as consent and the information should be completely provided.”

The Re-Use of Public Sector Information

The amendments introduce Directive 2013/37/EU, revising the first Directive on the Re-use of Public Sector Information (2003). The Directive 2003/98/EC on the Re-use of Public Sector Information was transposed in 2007 in the Access to Public Information Act.

“The obligations for provision of information under this regime are extended now,” explained Kashumov.

“Generally, the re-use regime prohibits any exclusive clauses in giving right to use whole data bases and obliges any public sector body in the EU states to provide equal availability of such data bases on equal conditions and costs related fees calculated in transparent way,” he said.

Public Sector Bodies and Formats

Libraries, museums and archives will now be obliged to provide information for re-use. The amendments made clearer the definition of a “public law organization” used for both access to information and information re-use purposes, including companies under the control of the state and the municipalities.

“Public sector bodies shall be obliged to make their documents available as much as possible in open and machine-readable format together with their metadata,” said Kashumov.

The standard licenses for the re-use of public sector information and its publication in an open format are to be set by a Regulation of the Council of Ministers. Public sector bodies are to publish information in an open machine-readable format in a government Open Data Portal.

Fees Calculation Defined

The fees for the re-use of public sector information held by public bodies should not exceed the material costs for its reproduction and provision, according to Kashumov.

When the information is held by the other organizations, the fee should not exceed the costs for its collection, production, reproduction and dissemination, together with a reasonable return on investment. The fees will be determined in line with objective, transparent, and verifiable criteria, determined by a methodology adopted by the Council of Ministers. A tariff will be adopted by the Council of Ministers for all public bodies except municipalities. The latter will elaborate their own tariffs.

The limitations on the re-use of public sector information are in line with the EU Directive and the Bulgarian legislation, Kashumov said. In the cases of trade secret, the public sector bodies are obliged to perform the overriding public interest test.

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