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  • 1 July 2014

    Germany Failing on RTI in Five States

    By Walter Keim The following is the text of a letter sent June 27 by RTI activist Keim to Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression 5 German states fail to respect human right of access to information, found for 84% of the worlds population. EU, CoE, OSCE and […]

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  • 22 January 2014

    German Government Claims Copyright on Document

    The German Ministry of the Interior has ordered a freedom of information website to take down a document obtained under the freedom of information law. Frag den Staat, a German FOI portal run by the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, published a  document on election law policy that the government now says is covered by copyright […]

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Read more news….

freedom of information

Text from the Global Survey: Freedom of Information and Access to Government Records Around the World, by David Banisar (updated July 2006)

The Act to Regulate Access to Federal Government Information was adopted in June 2005 and went into force on 1 January 2006.(1) It gives any person a right of access to official information from agencies of the federal government or those organizations or persons conducting public duties. Information must be provided within one month. It can be provided orally, in writing or electronically.

There are extensive exemptions in the law. Drafts or notes are not included in the definition of official information. There are exemptions for information the disclosure of which would have a detrimental effect on international relations; military interests; internal or external security interests; duties of regulatory authorities; external financial control; prevention of prohibited foreign trade; ongoing legal, criminal or administrative proceedings; jeopardize public safety; subject to secrecy or confidentiality by another law or state secrets regulation; impair the fiscal interests of the federal government; third party confidential information or relates to the intelligence services or the Security Screening Act. Drafts and resolutions can be withheld if they would prevent the success of the decision or pending matters. This does not include results of evidence gathering or opinions of third parties. Access to another person’s personal data can only be given if the interest outweighs the other person’s interest or the person consents to the release. Sensitive personal data can only be released with consent. There is no right of access if it conflicts with intellectual property rights.

Requestors can appeal denials internally. They can then complain to the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information.(2) The Commissioner also has the authority to monitor compliance, issue complaints, recommend improvements in law and practice and submit a bi-annual report. Appeals can also be made to the courts.

Authorities are required to maintain indexes of information and their purposes. Indexes and other information should be made available on government websites.

Implementation of the Act has been very low profile. There has been little media attention or discussion of the law and little effort by the government to promote the law. Some agencies such as the Foreign Office have announced that they are planning to charge large fees for access to information.(3)

Federal Archives are regulated under the Federal Archives Act.(4) It allows for open access to most records after thirty years. Personal information is withheld for thirty years after the death of the person or 110 years after their birth. Information can also be withheld by other laws. The Government announced in April 2006 that it was opening the Holocaust archives.(5)

Germany signed the Aarhus Convention in December 1998 but has not ratified it. Access to environmental information is under the Environmental Information Act.(6) The German practice was found several times by the European Court of Justice to not be adequate under the EU 1990 Directive. The law was revised in 2005 to implement the EU Directive 2003/35/EC on public access to environmental information.(7)

Individuals have a right to access and correct their own personal information held by government and private bodies under the Federal Data Protection Act.(8) It is also enforced by the Federal Commissioner.

The Stasi Records Act allows access to the files of the secret police of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany).(9) The law created a Federal Commission for the Records of the State Security Services of the Former GDR which has a staff of 3,000 piecing together shredded documents and making files available.(10) There have been two million requests from individuals for access to the files and three million requests for background checks since the archives became available. Researchers and the media have used the archives 15,000 times. There was an extended legal battle over the release of files collected on former Chancellor Helmut Kohl related to illegal activities by Kohl while he was head of a political party. In 2005, some of the files were released but it did not include information gathered from illegal wiretaps.(11)

The states of Brandenburg, Berlin, Hamburg, Nordrhein-Westfalen, and Schleswig-Holstein have also adopted combination FOI and Data Protection laws each with its own commissioner.(12) Efforts are pending in another three states. All of the states have data protection laws with commissions.(13)


Gesetz zur Regelung des Zugangs zu Informationen des Bundes (Informationsfreiheitsgesetz – IFG) (unofficial translation of final draft)


Freedom of information: Federal Foreign Office uses hefty fees as deterrent, Heise Online, 2 February 2006.

Law on the Preservation and Use of Federal Archival Documents (Bundesarchivgesetz – BArchG) of 6 January 1988 (BGBl. I S. 62), as amended at last by the Freedom of Information Law of 5 September 2005 (BGBl. I S. 2722).

After Resisting for Decades, Germany Agrees to Open Archive of Holocaust Documents, NY Times, 19 April 2006.

Environmental Information Act 1994 (Umweltinformationsgesetz, UIG)

See S. Bugdahn: Of Europeanization and domestication: the implementation of the Environmental Information Directive in Ireland, Great Britain and Germany, Journal of European Public Policy 12: 1 February 2005.

8. Federal Data Protection Act (Bundesdatenschutzgesetz, BDSG).

Act Regarding the Records of the State Security Service of the Former German Democratic Republic (Stasi Records Act) of 20 December 1991.

Web Site:

Kohl’s Stasi Files Released, Deutsche Welle, 24 March 2005.

See Gill, Four Pioneers: Freedom of Information in the German States


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News Archive

  • 12 July 2013

    Efforts Under Way to Pass FOI Laws in German States

    Activists in German states are mounting efforts to pass freedom of information laws. There are  initiatives in Nordrhine-Westphalia (NRW), Niedersachsen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Baden-Württemberg, and Bavaria, according to German activists. Most of the proposals are modeled on a law (in English) passed in Hamburg that stresses proactive publication. Nordrhine-Westphalia In Nordrhine-Westphalia, the largest state in Germany, a new proposal (in […]

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  • 22 February 2013

    Germany Urged to Join OGP, Improve Open Data Releases

    Activists in Germany are urging the government to make the data sets it releases more useable and join the Open Government Partnership. In a recent joint statement signed by more than 300 groups and persons from the German open data community criticized the government data portal started last year and recommended improvements, such as releasing […]

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  • 24 October 2012

    Level of FOI Requests Varies With Awareness of Laws

    Variation in the per capita usage of freedom of information laws may depend on public awareness of the laws, according to two Swiss researchers. The research was done primarily on the situations in Switzerland and Germany, where usage is lower than in other countries. Or at least it was at the time of the study, […]

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  • 30 August 2012

    German Court Rules on FOI Corporate Coverage

    By Rafael Njotea This article appeared in Wobbing Europe on Aug. 23. Companies owned by the state for 50 percent or more fall under the same transparency regulations as public bodies, a court ruling by the Berlin Administrative Court says. Previously, the freedom of information regulation only held for companies owned by the state for […]

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  • 15 June 2012

    Hamburg Supplements FOI Law With Disclosure Mandate

    The state parliament of Hamburg in Germany has passed legislation to create a central information register. The June 13 action was described in English according on the Transparenz Schafft Vertrauen website, which said the law will make Hamburg “the most transparent state in Germany” when it goes into effect. The planned register will be a repository for all […]

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  • 30 April 2012

    Requests in Germany Doubled in 2011, Report Says

    The German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Peter Schaar, April 24 issued an annual report showing that requests are rising. The third annual report on freedom of information for 2010 and 2011, indicates that in 2011, 3,280 applications were made, an increase of 110 percent compared with the 1,557 requests recorded […]

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  • 30 January 2012

    Campaign Under Way for Germany to Join Open Government Partnership

    By Sebastian Haselbeck Haselbeck is community manager of the Internet & Society Co:llaboratory. When eight countries committed to launching the Open Government Partnership in the fall of 2011, chaired by the governments of the United States and Brazil, hopes were high among the German “opengov” community that their own government’s commitment might be imminent. For […]

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  • 21 October 2011

    Proactive Transparency for Public Services: the Berlin Model

    By Alexander Dix Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information This is a translation of an article originally published in the German Yearbook on Freedom of Information and Information Law. Resources: The Berlin  FOI Act as amended 2010  and The Act for the Full Disclosure of Secret Contracts for the Partial Privatization of the Berlin Water Utilities (as […]

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  • 6 October 2011

    Views on Open Data Contrast During ICIC Sessions

    The sometimes discordant relationship between traditional advocates of freedom of information and the champions of open data was on display during several sessions Oct. 5 at the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners in Ottawa, Canada. One Canadian open data advocate called reforming FOI laws a low priority. FOI traditionalists, while supported the release of […]

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  • 19 June 2009

    12 European Countries Sign First International Convention on Access to Official Documents

    Advocates Urge 37 Remaining Council of Europe Members to Sign Tromsø, Norway — On June 18, 2009, 12 of 47 member-states of the Council of Europe signed the Convention on Access to Official Documents, making history as the first international binding legal instrument that recognizes a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities. […]

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  • 20 June 2007

    In First Year, Germany’s Federal Agencies Struggle to Adapt to FOIA: But Requesters Off to Slow Start as Well

    By Thoralf Schwanitz According to the first statistics published by the German Freedom of Information Commissioner, the federal administration is still struggling to adapt to the new openness required by Germany’s Freedom of Information Act, which entered into force on January 1, 2006. The new data also show that usage of the new law has […]

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  • 22 March 2006

    EBRD Seeks Comment on Draft of New Disclosure Policy

    At the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the board recently released a proposal to modify its disclosure policies, with comments due April 14. The EBRD included in its announcement a number of new provisions. First, two new categories of information would be disclosed: General Institutional Information and Accountability and Governance. Second, the EBRD […]

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  • 18 August 2005

    German Federal Data Protection Commissioner to become Freedom of Information Commissioner

    Under the new German Freedom of Information Law, which will enter into force on January 1, 2006, the current Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar will also assume the job of Federal Commissioner for Freedom of Information. Schaar has emphasized the importance of his new position to the successful implementation of the new law: Timeline: […]

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  • 21 July 2005

    EIB Announces Second Round for Transparency Policy Review

    The European Investment Bank has committed to writing a second draft proposal on disclosure policy-expanding and extending its process for consultation and review after the first draft, and the process, came under criticism. According to a July 21 announcement, "the Bank feels it appropriate to launch a second round of consultation on the basis of […]

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  • 9 February 2005

    On-line Networking Solves Potential Secrecy Problem in Slovakia in 4 Hours

    International openness advocates assist Slovakian reformers in debate over EU directive and its effects on Slovak law concept of "silent refusal" Freedom of information advocates in 10 countries plus the U.S. state of New York today combined forces on-line within an elapsed time of four hours to help Slovakian openness reformers refute a legal interpretation […]

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  • 15 July 2002

    World’s Right to Know

    By Thomas Blanton Published in Foreign Policy, July/August 2002 During the last decade, 26 countries have enacted new legislation giving their citizens access to government information. Why? Because the concept of freedom of information is evolving from a moral indictment of secrecy to a tool for market regulation, more efficient government, and economic and technological […]

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Federal Freedom of Information Act (1 June 2005)
[German version] [English translation]


Thomas Hart (Bertelsmann Stiftung), English commentary on the Bundestag's decision to pass a Federal Freedom of Information Act (June 7, 2005).



Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information



Humanistic Union, Freedom of Information Campaign in Germany [German]


Transparency International Deutschland



The Yearbook of Freedom of Information:  A book publishd by NGOs in 2010.


Walter Keim, Letter: Will Realization of Freedom of Information in Germany Fail in the Bundesrat? (June 8, 2005)


Walter Keim, letter on "Realization of Freedom of Information in German Local States (31 July 2005)



Measuring Openness

Global Right to Information Rating
A country-by-country rating of laws by the Centre for Democracy and Law and Access Info.

Freedom House
The Freedom in the World report.

World Bank
Worldwide Governance Indicators

Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index
Measures perceptions of the degree of corruption.

Reporters Without Borders
The Press Freedom Index.