Netherlands

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  • 8 February 2013

    Rulings in Holland Ban Charging FOI Processing Fees

    Two court rulings in Holland have said that requesters may not be charged for the cost of processing their freedom of information requests. They may be assessed the costs of making copies and mailing. “This is a landslide victory although in The Netherlands there are no, and there were never, legal grounds for charging fees,” […]

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  • 18 June 2012

    Dutch Green Party Proposes Revised FOI Law

    By Roger Vleugels The Dutch Green Party on June 4, 2012, issued a draft for a new Dutch Freedom of Information Act. This description is by Roger Vleugels, a lecturer, legal adviser, publisher, and an advisor to the Green Party. The problem: the Old Wob The current Dutch Wob: Wet openbaarheid van bestuur, the Dutch […]

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News Archive

  • 3 February 2012

    Dutch Wob War Enters New, More Civilized Stage

    By Roger Vleugels Vluegels, roger.vleugels@planet.nl, is based in The Netherlands where he publishes Fringe Spitting, in which this report first appeared. In the first half of 2011 the Minister of Internal Affairs, Piet-Hein Donner, in charge for the Dutch FOIA, the Wob, launched his attack on the Wob. Since September 2011 the early signs of change […]

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  • 13 May 2011

    Dutch Minister Proposes Cutbacks to Openness Law

    Dutch Home Affairs Minister Piet Hein Donner May 5 suggested that the government will propose limitations on use of Holland’s Openness of Government Act, primarily to protect information about predecisional deliberations. Donner did not provide specifics during a speech in which he also said that government officials are overburdened in responding to requests for information, […]

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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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  • 10 April 2009

    Signs and Smokesignals

    Asked by e-mail about the fund, Alejandra Videos, a Senior Communications Officer with the World Bank replied, We dont have anything new to report on the Facility. Well let you know if anything comes up. Another Bank official explained that no disclosure about the funds expenditures is necessary under Bank rules because it is bank-executed […]

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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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  • 28 September 2005

    International Right to Know Day 2005

    Since 2002, freedom of information advocates around the world have been working together to promote the right of access to information for all people and recognize the benefits of transparent and accountable governments. We use this day as a way to share ideas, strategies and success stories about the development of freedom of information laws […]

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  • 24 February 2004

    Parliamentarians Flex Growing Organization, Make Request of Bank

    The chairman of an international group of parliamentarians has asked the World Bank to help assure a larger role for legislatures in setting the poverty-fighting strategies within their countries. The request marks one of the first times the parliamentarians have proposed a significant and specific policy change, according to persons familiar with the group’s history. […]

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links

LEGAL DOCUMENTS

Constitution of the Netherlands, 1983

 

Government Information (Public Access) Act (WOB), 1991

 

Personal Data Protection Act of 2000

 

GOVERNMENT

Data Protection Authority

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Click to view.

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

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Article 110 of the Constitution states:

In the exercise of their duties government bodies shall observe the principle of transparency in accordance with rules to be prescribed by Act of Parliament.(1)

This has been generally recognized as obliging government bodies to be open and publish information but it is not considered to provide a right to citizens to be able to demand access. There was a debate on amending the Constitution as part of an effort to update it to include information technology. However, the FOI right was not included.

Transparency has been of longstanding concern in the Netherlands. The 1795 Declaration of Rights of Man stated, "That every one has the right to concur in requiring, from each functionary of public administration, an account and justification on his conduct."(2)

Freedom of information legislation was first adopted in 1978. The Government Information (Public Access) Act (WOB) replaced the original law in 1991.(3) Under the Act, any person can demand information related to an administrative matter if it is contained in documents held by public authorities or companies carrying out work for a public authority. The request can either be written or oral. The authority has two weeks to respond. Recommendations of advisory committees must be made public within four weeks.

Information must be withheld if it would endanger the unity of the Crown, damage the security of the state or if it relates to information on companies and manufacturing processes that were provided in confidence. Information can also be withheld "if its importance does not outweigh" the imperatives of international relations and the economic or financial interest of the state. Withholding is also allowed if the release of the information would endanger the investigation of criminal offenses, inspections by public authorities, personal privacy and the prevention of disproportionate advantage or disadvantage to a natural or legal person. In documents created for internal consultation, personal opinions shall not be disclosed except in anonymous form when it is "in the interests of effective democratic governance." Environmental information has limited exemptions.

Appeals can be made internally and then to an administrative court which has the final decision. The courts hear an estimated 150 cases each year.

A bill to amend the WOB to implement the requirements of the EU Directive on the re-use and commercial exploitation of public sector information (2003/98/EC) was approved in December 2005.

According to experts, the WOB is only lightly used, around 1,000 requests each year, mostly by a few newspapers.(4) The lack of interest stems from media and NGOs' belief that filing requests could be considered to be disruptive to good relations with government bodies, no tradition of political research, a lack of sanctions, broad exemptions and poor archives. The Minister for Government Reform announced in December 2005 that he will introduce a new more liberal law. A draft bill for consultation is now being considered.(5)

Individuals can obtain and correct personal information held about them by public and private bodies under the Personal Data Protection Act.(6) It is overseen and enforced by the Data Protection Authority (CBP).(7)

The Archives Act requires that, documents are sent to the national and regional archives after 20 years. National security related documents can be kept closed for 75 years.

The Criminal Code prohibits the disclosure of state secrets. Punishment can be up to 15 years imprisonment.(8) Reporter Peter R. de Vries was investigated in December 2005 after he published secret information that had been on a disk lost by an official that showed that the intelligence service was monitoring the private life of murdered politician Pim Fortuyn. The prosecutor's office announced in February 2006 that there were dropping the investigation.(9)

The Netherlands signed the Aarhus Convention in June 1998 and accepted it in December 2004. Access to environmental information is under the WOB. The WOB was amended in July 2005 to implement the convention and the 2003 EU Directive.(10)

2004 freedominfo.org Global Survey Results - The Netherlands


DUTCH FOIA BASICS
SOURCE: Roger Vleugels, "Some technical information on the Dutch FOIA, the wob" (7 Dec 2005).
For more information, Fringe eZines (by Roger Vleugels and Jan van den Baard)

Statistics

Enacted: May 1980, latest act update February 2005 (implementing the Arhus treaty)

Requests: 1000 a year on federal level. (UK 150,000+ / US 2,500,000+ both on federal level)

Success-rate: Request 15%; administrative appeal 35%; court appeal 65%; high court appeal 75%

Rulings: In almost all cases a ruling will have the exact effect as meant in the ruling

Speed: Request 1-2 month; administrative appeal 4-5 month; [high]court appeal each 1-2 year

Requesters: 75% journalists; 25% lawyers, NGO's, researchers, publicists and so on

 

Overview of Exemptions

The absolute exemptions

• The Royal Family/Household, internal Cabinet debates and docs concerning the Colonies

• National Security

• Confidentiality on trade and business secrets stored in government docs

• Some types of privacy data

 

The relative exemptions

• Diplomacy

• Financial interests of the State

• Law enforcement docs if case related and only during the operational phase of a case

• Inspectorate data [sometimes] and methods [always]

• Some types of privacy data

• Disproportionate disadvantage

 

The restrictions

• Internal docs and personal opinions on policies of civil servants


NOTES

Unofficial translation. Official translation of Constitution of the Netherlands, 2002 at http://www.minbzk.nl/contents/pages/6156/grondwet_UK_6-02.pdf

Link

Act of 31 October 1991, containing regulations governing public access to government information. It replaced the Act on Public Access to Information of 9 November 1978.

Roger Vleugels, The Dutch FOIA, a 25 year old toddler, December 2005.

See here.

Personal Data Protection Act of 2000. http://www.cbp-info.nl/bis/subset-1-11-7.html

Homepage: http://www.cbdweb.nl/

Criminal Code §98.

Officer lost memory stick with details of Afghan mission, Expatia, 2 February 2006.

Staatsblad 2005/341, 7 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.