The 8th International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC 2013) has taken place in Berlin from 18th to 20th September 2013. The conference was jointly hosted by the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Peter Schaar, and the Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Dr. Alexander Dix.
Ralf Wieland, Speaker of the Berlin House of Representatives, Peter Schaar, Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Prof. Dr. Dres. h.c. Hans-Jürgen Papier, former President of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, Prof. Dr. Dr. Klaus Töpfer, former Federal Minister, Executive Director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Prof. Dr. Brun-Otto Bryde, former judge of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany and other made speeches at the conference.
Commissioners from 35 countries, including Germany, Bangladesh, Canada, Slovenia, Hungary and United Kingdom have participated in the conference. Besides, there were specialists working on freedom of information issues and journalists from Germany, Canada, USA, Brazil, Ireland, Southern Africa, Mexico, Syrian Arab Republic, Denmark, United Kingdom etc.
The following issues have been stressed at the conference:
Referring to Snowden case and the usage of telephone and Internet communications by the U.S. surveillance programs the commissioners have stated that “in principle, even intelligence services cannot deny the public’s entitlement to transparency.”
Importance of access to corporate information has been stressed, taking into account that “businesses influence political and administrative decisions on a transnational level.”
It was also noted importance of “effective active provision of information which takes advantage of all methods of communication, especially the options offered by information technology.”
The commissioners have also declared “Transparency is also an important instrument to fight corruption within and by Companies.” Interestingly, according to the survey prepared by the Centre for Freedom of Information, based at the University of Dundee in Scotland Private bodies performing public functions comply poorly with national access to information laws compared to public bodies. 63% of commissioners said such entities perform poorly compared with public bodies. Besides, More than half of the commissioners reported that their laws apply wholly or in part to companies, charitable trust and other non-public bodies that provide public services.
Text of Resolution
Resolution of the 8th International Conference of Information Commissioners from 18 to 20 September 2013 in Berlin
Berlin Declaration on Strengthening Transparency at the National and International Level
20 September 2013
“Transparency: the Fuel of Democracy”
Bearing in mind that· the willingness of citizens to exercise their fundamental rights and to actively participate in the political process is crucial for democracy,
· information is an indispensable requirement of political opinion forming and participation,
· compliance with constitutional requirements (rule of law), the transparency of government action and a strong judicial review legitimize government action,
· transparency and the rule of law strengthen confidence in the law-abiding behaviour and ability of federal, regional and local functionaries and institutions to learn, the Information Commissioners gathered in Berlin at their 8th International Conference resolve:
Transparency is not possible without legally guaranteed access to information. Therefore, binding legal entitlement to access to information at the national and supranational level is necessary.
Rights to information guaranteed under international law justify individual claims to access to information from supranational bodies and oblige governments to share their knowledge with citizens. The actions of governments and of the community of states must be based on discourse and participation even more so than in the past. If they want to attain their objectives, they need to make a greater effort than in the past to gain the public’s confidence.
Democracy, the rule of law and the fight against the evil of corruption can grow only where national authorities and international organizations are willing to account for their actions and share information with citizens. In this way, transparent action is an important weapon in the fight against global corruption, which thrives in a climate of secrecy when citizens are prevented from participating in decision-making processes.
Today, many states and international institutions already disclose a range of information regarding the environment, parliamentary activity and many other areas. This form of transparency strengthens citizens’ confidence in their work.
But there are still major gaps that must be closed.
In principle, even intelligence services cannot deny the public’s entitlement to transparency. Precisely because their work profoundly intrudes on citizens’ fundamental rights, it too must be subject to constitutional oversight that is verifiable and comprehensible to the public. Exempting this area entirely from the right of access to information is incompatible with this principle. The Conference recalls in this respect the decision of the European Court of Human Rights of 25 June 2013 (Youth Initiative for Human Rights v. Serbia), which recognizes in principle that the right to information guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights also applies to intelligence services.
Transparency is also necessary where businesses influence political and administrative decisions on a transnational level. Particularly in these cases, binding guarantees of transparency under international law and greater international public oversight are essential in order to control the power of private companies more effectively.
Transparency is also an important instrument to fight corruption within and by Companies.
The International Conference of Information Commissioners
· advocates the creation, at the national and supranational level, of comprehensive and effective legal obligations for access to information upon request and of an effective active provision of information which takes advantage of all methods of communication, especially the options offered by information technology;
· supports the recognition of an international fundamental right to information, and draws attention to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Civil Covenant, ICCPR) of 16 December 1966 as an international covenant stipulating that everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference, incorporating the freedom to obtain, receive and share information across national borders;
· reaffirms its support, resolved in Ottawa in 2011, that all eligible states should join and actively support the Open Government Partnership;
· notes that the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents of 18 June 2009 (Tromsö Convention), being the first international instrument to make provision for the right of access to information at government agencies, is open for accession by all states of the world, and recommends that all states consider ratifying the Convention.