Freedom of information in Germany and the UK

By EDRi · June 29, 2005

On 8 July 2005 the German Senate (Bundesrat) is set to decide on a freedom
of information law, granting formal access rights to governmental
decisions. But the christian-democrat governments in many of the 16 states
have threatened to block the law.

In July 2004 the German government announced the rapid introduction of the
Federal Freedom of Information Act (Gesetz zur Regelung des Zugangs zu
Informationen des Bundes) and on 3 June 2005 the Lower House adopted the
text in second and third reading, after having considered strong
objections from national health insurance companies and the parliamentary
health committee. They were afraid individual medical records could be
requested as well.

Though the Bundesrat officially only has a say on laws directly affecting
the regional states, in this case their rejection could actually block the
proposal. Normally, after such a formal objection the law could still be
adopted by the Lower House. But after the upcoming elections in Germany,
the Lower House might very well see a comfortable conservative majority
strongly opposing the act.

The liberal-democrats (FDP) abstained from the vote in the Lower House,
and also announced they would abstain in the Bundesrat vote. If they keep
their promise, the christian-democrats won’t be able to block the law.

Together with Luxembourg, Germany is the only country in the EU, and one
of the very few in the larger Council of Europe without an access to
information law. The UK was also very late in creating formal access
rights. The Freedom of Information Act went into force on 1 January 2005.
Earlier this month, the law was analysed by the Department of
Constitutional Affairs. They found that access could be refused under no
less than 210 different statutory provisions. The Secretary of State has
the power to amend 183 of these. Other provisions either have already
changed, or cannot be changed because they were adopted after the Act was

On 23 June 2005 the UK Government also published the first statistics on
requests and results. The Campaign for Freedom of Information responded
with an angry press release and said “a disturbing level of requests were
not being dealt with within the Act’s time limits.”

The figures show that 36% of requests took longer than the 20-working day
deadline, with the worst record for the Home Office. “In 60% of all
requests it failed either to respond to the request within 20 days, or
even tell the applicant that it needed more time within that period.”

Gesetzentwurf (original proposal in German, 14.12.2005)

Unauthorised English translation of the version adopted by the Lower House

EDRI-gram 2.14, German promise to adopt freedom of information law

UK: 210 reasons to refuse a Freedom of Information request (22.06.2005)

DCA, Review of Statutory Prohibitions on Disclosure (June 2005)

Government statistics highlight “unacceptable” freedom of information
delays (23.06.2005)