Draft Austrian FOI Law Criticized by Two Groups

10 February 2016

Austria’s draft freedom of information law does not meet international standards, according to an analysis of the draft by Access Info Europe and the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI).

The groups said the “key weaknesses” in the proposed FOI law (Informationsfreiheitsgesetz) include:

– An overly restrictive definition of “information” that would exclude drafts, internal e-mails, notes and other information not deemed to “serve an official or company purpose.”

– An expansive list of exceptions to the right of information that includes exceptions not permitted by international standards and treaties. This broad nature of this list is compounded by the lack of clear, strongly worded harm and public interest tests.

– The lack of an independent oversight body to oversee implementation of the law, hear appeals and make binding decisions on public authorities to disclose information.

– A unnecessarily lengthy time frame of eight weeks in which public bodies must respond to requests for information, a period that may be extended for a further eight weeks in certain circumstances. The European norm is a maximum of 15 working days.

– While filing a request for information is itself technically free of charge, a fee applies if a person requests an explanation (ruling) if access to information is denied. This ruling is necessary in order to appeal the decision. In practice, this fee closely amounts to a charge for requesting information and thus conflicts with international standards as well as the overwhelming European norm.

– The rules for requesting information from state-owned companies differ significantly in comparison to requesting information from public bodies. Most importantly, persons whose request for information is denied by a state-owned company must lodge an appeal through the civil court system, which may involve prohibitively high costs and substantial risk for the plaintiff.

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