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This is the second post on how to make a PSI request in the EU member states. In the first one, “What is a “request for re-use”? And how do we make it right?“, we have clarified what is a PSI request and how to make it in French, this time we will examine how the things work in Germany.


First of all a brief overwiev of the legislation in force.

In Germany the legal framework concerned data processed or held by public sector bodies is quite complex and not exactly crisp: access to information and re-use is included in several specific laws that may be federal or regional laws.

For instance at national level, we have:

  • Transposition of the PSI Directive, Informationsweiterwendungsgesetz (IWG) of 13.12.2006, last amended on 08/07/2015
  • Freedom of Information Act (IFG) of 01.01.2006, last amended on 07.08.2013
  • Environmental Information Act (UIG) of 22.12.2004, last amended on 27.10.2014
  • Consumer Information Act (VIG) of 05.11.2007, last amended on 07.08.2013
  • Federal law on access to geographic data (Gesetz über den Zugang zu digitalen Geodaten -Geodatenzugangsgesetz (GeoZG) from 10.02.2009, last changed on 07.11.2012
  • Law for the advancement of digital public administration, Gesetz zur Förderung der elektronischen Verwaltung (E-Government-Gesetz - EGovG) 05/07/2017.

 

At regional level, we have:

  • Land Information Freedom Act Baden-Württemberg (LIFG) of 30.12.2015
  • Berlin Freedom of Information Act (IFG) of 15.10.1999, last amended on 06/23/2015
  • File Access and Information Access Act Brandenburg (AIG) of 10.03.1998, last changed on 15.10.2013
  • Bremen Freedom of Information Act (BremIFG) of 16.05.2006, last amended on 05/03/2015
  • Hamburg Transparency Act (HmbTG) of 06.10.2012
  • Freedom of Information Act Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (IFG MV) from 10.07.2006, last changed on 20.05.2011
  • Freedom of Information Act North Rhine-Westphalia (IFG NRW) of 27.11.2001, last changed on 16.10.2014.

 

As you may have noticed, in Germany there is a Freedom of Information Act (IFG) since 2006, but it only applies to the federal authorities. In fact, Germany is a federal state consisting of 16 Länder. It is up to the Länder parliaments whether to adopt the IFG; as a result, some Länder (Bavaria, Hesse, Lower Saxony and Saxony) have not yet adopted the IFG.

The question is even more complex considering that several municipalities have introduced a freedom of information Statute; for instance, in Bayern they are around 80 (source: https://informationsfreiheit.org/). 

So, given this complicated web of rules, how to make a PSI request to a German public sector body?
Fortunately, it is simpler as it seems. 

An easy way to make a re-use request to a German public sector body

Thanks to a very active community of people devoted to the freedom of information, you can leverage a non-profit online platform, fragdenstaat.de.
  

This platform, active since 2011, allows you to make a request to a German public sector body in a matter of a few clicks.

Just click on “Anfrage stellen” on the header of the main page, look for the public sector body which owns the information you want leveraging the internal database of bodies and finally complete a lean form.

 

 

Once you have added the request, the platform forwards it to the public sector body. You will receive a notification email as soon as the body replies to your request.

The request is archived on a public available database just like the PSI Monitor. In fact, the most recent requests are automatically loaded also in the PSI Monitor database.

Pay attention to the form: it considers that you are making a request under IFG/UIG/VIG legislation and not under IWG (i.e. Informationsweiterverwendungsgesetz, the transposition of the PSI Directive). Therefore it is better to specify it in the text of the request.

See as a reference the following requests:

https://fragdenstaat.de/anfrage/iwg-antrag-ergebnisse-fruherer-bundestagswahlen/

https://fragdenstaat.de/anfrage/iwg-antrag-tabellen-aus-bundestags-drs-1813360/

https://fragdenstaat.de/anfrage/antrag-izgiwg-informationen-isa-portal/

In particular, the last one represents an interesting case study of a successful request after an initial refusal by the public sector body involved.

 

“Public sector information” and “open government data” may at first sight appear as synonyms and thus refer to the same thing. After all, the words “public” and “government” suggest the same origin. This is also the case for the terms "information" and "data".

However, there is a magic word, "open", which makes a big difference. But let's go back a little and see what is the universally recognised definition of "public sector information".

Public Sector Information (PSI) is the wide range of information that the public sector collects, produces, reproduces, publishes and disseminates in many areas of activity while accomplishing their institutional task. In some cases , there are also private sector suppliers of data and information that can be considered substitutes for public sector information.

There is no evidence to the term “open” in the definition of the public sector information.

On the other side, “open government data” is defined as material that is:

  • Produced or commissioned by government or government controlled entities.
  • “Open” as defined by this site’s Open Definition– in essence material (data) is open if it can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone

In view of the above it is obvious that “open government data” are a subset of the “public sector information”; in particular they are the “open” portion of the “public sector information”.

An image is worth a thousand words, so if we draw the two definitions on a Venn diagram the difference looks evident.

 This is the first of a series of posts where we will examine the methods and practices used to make requests for re-use in the Member States. The example of France.

Under the regulations an applicant may make a request to re-use, but what exactly means “re-use” and what is the subject of the re-use?

According to the PSI Directive definition, re-use means:

the use by a person or a legal entity of a document held by a public sector body for a purpose other than the initial purpose within that public sector body’s public task for which the document was produced    

Well, we now know that re-use is referred to “documents”. Are they pieces of paper or their definition is broader?

Again, the  PSI Directive help us. “Document” means:

any content whatever its medium (written on paper or stored in electronic form or as a sound, visual or audiovisual recording) or any part of such content. 

Ok, we can condensate the above saying that a request for re-use is:

A request for a content produced by a public sector body for a purpose different from the one that justified the creation of that content. 

But, how to practically apply a request for re-use to a public sector body?

Different Member States use different approaches. In this post we examine the French situation.

 

How to make a re-use request to a French public sector body

In France the main reference on the topic is the CADA, i.e. the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (http://www.cada.fr ). It is an independent administrative and advisory body responsible for ensuring the freedom of access to administrative documents.
 

Its role is mainly to advise on the refusal by the public sector body to requests for communication from individuals, companies or associations. In case you are denied access to a document or you do not receive a response within a month, you can refer to the CADA that examines the request and expresses an opinion which constitutes a pre-litigation remedy. CADA’s opinion is mandatory before any litigation.

How to identify the right person or department of a French public sector body to whom address a request?

Public sector bodies above certain dimensions are subject to the obligation of designation of a PRADA (Personne Responsable de l’Accès aux Documents Administratifs et des questions relatives à la réutilisation des informations publiques) as required by the Code des relations entre le public et l’administration – articles L330-1 et R.330-2 et suivants.

Hence, the first thing to do is to find the PRADA contact of the public sector body you want to make the request. You can refer to the official list of PRADA contacts available on the CADA website.

Is there any template or standardized module to fill in a re-use request?

Normally not. You should at least respect some general provisions:

  • the request should not be too general ( opinion n ° 20071121 of March 22nd, 2007);
  • the documents must be precisely enumerated ( opinion no. 20071121 of 22 March 2007 and opinion no. ° 20081703 of May 6, 2008);
  • the documents requested should not be too numerous or represent an exorbitant volume, likely to cause material problems (for example: all the supporting documents for the accounts of a local authority: opinion n ° 19993707 of October 28th, 1999).

Sometimes you can find an on line form on the public sector body website, some examples here:

 

If there is no a dedicated online form, you should address your request to the PRADA contact, if available.

A possible incipit for the request may be the following, as suggested here:

Madame, Monsieur,
Au titre du droit d’accès aux documents administratifs consacré par la loi CADA, je souhaite obtenir la communication [du rapport bidule, du code source de tel logiciel, etc.].

En vous remerciant par avance,

Votre nom (agrémenté dans l’idéal de vos coordonnées). 

 

There is a big buzz around open data today, but for the non-experts it remains an abstract concept.
Let us try to clarify the things by referring to the most universally recognised definition. The home page of the Open Definition project (managed by the Open Knowledge Foundation) contains the following:

“Open means anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose (subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness).”

The site exposes also a full definition for those who want to know more about that.

And what about open government data? Open Definition is once again helping us:


“Open”” as defined above, in essence material (data) is open if it can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone, produced or commissioned by government or government controlled entities.


As we can see, open government data are a subset of open data.

 

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