Organizations repudit measure that suspends compliance with request for access to information

In a statement of condemnation, organizations claim the action is disproportionate and unconstitutional

(Brasília - DF, 24/03/2020) Presidente Jair bolsonaro e ministros durante  Videoconferência com Governadores do Sul.Foto: Marcos Corrêa/PR (Brasília - DF, 24/03/2020) Presidente Jair bolsonaro e ministros durante Videoconferência com Governadores do Sul.Foto: Marcos Corrêa/PR

Nearly 70 civil society organizations signed a statement of condemnation against Provisional Executive Order 928, issued this Monday, March 23, which contains provisions that interfere with the proper functioning of the Freedom of Information Law.

The Order, which presents measures to address the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus epidemic, includes article 6-B that, in practice, suspends the handling of freedom of information requests.

In the document, the organizations expressed concern over the changes presented by the federal government and they listed a series of reasons why they think the measure is disproportionate and may violate the constitutional right of access to information of public interest.

Among the arguments, the institutions note that the motives for the inclusion of the article were not explained and they criticize the vague language of the text and its contradictions, which makes it subject to interpretations and omissions.

They also draw attention to the exclusion of the possibility of appeal, in the event that the need arises to challenge the denial of a freedom of information request.

See the statement in full below:

Joint statement of condemnation against the changes to freedom of information made by Provisional Executive Order 928

The organizations and experts below express their condemnation of the changes in the freedom of information procedures made by Provisional Executive Order No. 928. The text, published on 23 March 2020, is a serious attack on the mechanisms of freedom of information and public transparency. For the reasons presented below, we demand the repeal of the section that includes article 6-B in Law No. 13,979 of 6 February 2020.

  1. There is no explanation of the motives for including the article. The explanatory section, which normally accompanies a Provisional Executive Order, is essential for society to understand the purpose of the measure and the criteria used by the public administration to adopt it.
  2. The text is vague, undermining the procedure for accessing information. Article 6-B establishes a priority for information requests related to measures to combat the pandemic, but it does not specify how this will occur, whether the response time will be shorter or what the criteria are for this priority. The text does not explain whether the priority only affects information on health or whether it also extends to equally important matters associated with Covid-19 (coronavirus) – such as the economy, income generation and emergency public procurement conditions. By not describing how the prioritization of the requests works, it is not clear that the applicants need to express the reasons why their request is related to the pandemic – which conflicts with article 10, paragraph 3, of the Freedom of Information Law.
  3. The text is contradictory and paves the way for unwarranted denials of information requests. The main clause of article 6-B of Law No. 13,979/2020 indicates that requests related to measures to combat the pandemic will be prioritized. But item II of paragraph 1 suspends the time frame established by the Freedom of Information Law precisely when the response to the request requires the involvement of public officials or sectors that are working on combating the pandemic. In practice, the time frames for responding to requests concerning actions to combat coronavirus will be suspended on the grounds of prioritization. It is of fundamental importance for the federal government and, in particular, the body overseeing the freedom of information policy (the Office of the Federal Comptroller General), to guarantee the conditions so that public servants can safely respond to these requests – whether those working directly on combating the pandemic or those executing administrative functions by telecommuting.
  4. It eliminates the possibility of appeal, preventing people from challenging denials of information requests or failures to respond. In addition to the lack of clear criteria for the application of the new rule, the fact that the Provisional Executive Order establishes that appeals against information request denials or omissions will not be accepted, under the terms of article 6-B, eliminates any chance of access to information, since it permits constant and unjustified denials by the government, with impunity, in violation of the Freedom of Information Law, which guarantees the right to submit appeals.
  5. It places on everyone the obligation to seek the transparency that ought to be provided by the government. By establishing that requests that go unanswered within the time frame must be refiled in up to 10 days after the calamity, it allows all requests made in the period to be ignored, unless the person remembers to refile it after the end of the emergency decree – when the information may no longer be useful or out of date.
  6. The Order was drafted and imposed without transparency or dialogue with civil society.The Office of the Federal Comptroller General has a Transparency Board, whose purpose is to discuss this type of measure with civil society and to guarantee social participation, but neither this board nor the other participation bodies were consulted.
  7. The Order goes against the measures of the Open Government Partnership that are being adopted by several other countries. The measures – available here – are proposed by the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an international partnership of which Brazil is part. With this order, the country is also running counter to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 16, contained in Agenda 2030 of the United Nations.

For these reasons, Provisional Executive Order No. 928 is disproportionate and violates the constitutional right of access to information of public interest. It makes transparency and social control secondary, precisely when the population is facing disinformation in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. This undermines people’s right to information on the actions of the government to combat the epidemic.

Instead of establishing new procedures that obstruct access to information, the federal government ought to follow the example of countries that have been more successful in the combat of Covid-19 and increase transparency, while encouraging states and municipalities to do the same.

The broad disclosure of data, particularly in an open format (such as epidemiological bulletins; administered and available tests; data collection methodology; contracts and information on public procurement and budgets; bed occupancy rates in hospitals, especially in ICUs etc.), could prevent a possible overload of information requests and the need to adjust time frames and procedures.

As such, we condemn Article 6-B of Law No. 13,979, of 6 February 2020, established by Provisional Executive Order No. 928 and strongly advocate its immediate repeal. Moreover, we support measures intended to improve active transparency, as well as mechanisms and instruments so public servants can observe the law without compromising their safety. We cannot institute an operational regime parallel to the Freedom of Information Law, nor accept setbacks to the achievements on transparency that have been made by society, especially in a clear time of crisis.

The statement is signed by the following organizations (in alphabetical order): 

  1. Ação EducativaAssessoria Pesquisa e Informação
  2. Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo
  3. Associação Brasileira de Lésbicas, Gays, Bissexuais, Travestis, Transexuais e Intersexos – ABGLT
  4. Associação Contas Abertas
  5. Associação de Preservação do Meio Ambiente e da Vida – Apremavi
  6. ARTIGO 19
  7. Campanha Nacional pelo Direito à Educação
  8. Casa da Cultura Digital Porto Alegre
  9. Centro de Estudos Legislativos (CEL DCP – UFMG)
  10. Clínica de Direitos Humanos da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais  (Cdh/UFMG)
  11. Comitê Goiano de Direitos Humanos Dom Tomás Balduino
  12. Conectas Direitos Humanos
  13. Dado Capital
  14. Fiquem Sabendo
  15. Federação Brasileira de Associações de Bibliotecários – (FEBAB)
  16. Fórum das Ong Aids do estado de São Paulo – FOAESP
  17. Fórum Paraibano de Luta da Pessoa com Deficiência
  18. Frente Favela Brasil
  19. Fundação Avina
  20. Fundação Grupo Esquel Brasil
  21. Gestos – Soropositividade, Comunicação e Gênero
  22. Greenpeace Brasil
  23. Grupo de Trabalho da Sociedade Civil para a Agenda 2030 de Desenvolvimento Sustentável (GTSC – A2030)
  24. InPACTO
  25. Instituto Akatu
  26. Instituto Alana
  27. Instituto Bem Estar Brasil
  28. Instituto Beta: Internet & Democracia
  29. Instituto Brasileiro de Ciências Criminais – IBCCRIM
  30. Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV)
  31. Instituto Democracia e Sustentabilidade (IDS)
  32. Instituto Educadigital
  33. Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (INESC)
  34. Instituto Ethos de Empresas e Responsabilidade Social
  35. Instituto de Governo Aberto (IGA)
  36. Instituto de Inclusão Cultural e Tecnológica – Tecnoarte
  37. Instituto de Manejo e Certificação Florestal e Agrícola – IMAFLORA
  38. Instituto Não Aceito Corrupção
  39. Instituto Nossa Ilhéus
  40. Instituto Observatório Político e Socioambiental (Instituto OPS)
  41. Instituto Oncoguia
  42. Instituto Socioambiental (ISA)
  43. Instituto Soma Brasil
  44. Instituto Sou da Paz
  45. Instituto Vladimir Herzog
  46. Intervozes – Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social
  47. Laboratório Analytics (Universidade Federal de Campina Grande)
  48. Laboratório de Inovação em Políticas Públicas do Rio de Janeiro
  49. Laboratório de Legislação & Políticas Públicas (LegisLab – UFMG)
  50. Laboratório de Políticas de Comunicação (Universidade de Brasília)
  51. Livre.jor
  52. Lobby Para Todos
  53. Missão Paz
  54. Observatório do Marajó
  55. Observatório Social de Belém
  56. Observatório Social de Brasília
  57. Observatório para a Qualidade da Lei (UFMG)
  58. Open Knowledge Brasil
  59. Operação Amazônia Nativa
  60. Plataforma MROSC
  61. Programa Cidades Sustentáveis
  62. Rede Nacional de Observatórios da Imprensa (RENOI)
  63. Rede Nossa São Paulo
  64. Repórter Brasil
  65. Transparência Brasil
  66. Transparência Partidária
  67. WWF-Brasil

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