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Democracy and fundamental rights
Art. 5

Transparency litigation under the Freedom of Information Act

Jointly with "FragDenStaat" we successfully supported lawsuits for more transparent politics and administration from 2016 to 2019.

Jointly with FragDenStaat.de, the GFF supported lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act (IFG) from 2016 to 2019 in order to make the work of politics and administration in Germany more transparent - with success, as already decided cases show.

Successful transparency partnerships

  • Transparency obligations of Hamburger Hochbahn AG (HH AG): On 28.01.2020, the Administrative Court of Hamburg ruled that HH AG is bound by the Hamburg Transparency Act (HambTG). Even when the state of Hamburg transfers public tasks to private companies, information about the fulfilment of these tasks must be freely accessible. The judgement as PDF: Acknowledgement judgement of the Administrative Court of Hamburg of 28.01.2020.
  • The Administrative Court of Berlin ruled on 4 July 2019 that the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) must release the minutes of the meetings of the Scientific Advisory Council of the BMD of the past twenty years.
  • Transparency lawsuit by journalist and editor-in-chief of Netzpolitik.org, Markus Beckedahl: The Federal Administrative Court ruled on 13 December 2018 that parts of a cabinet protocol must be released by the Federal Chancellery. The claim for the release of the minutes was the subject of a legal dispute that had been ongoing since 2012. The ruling is an important step towards more transparency.
  • Transparency lawsuit against Stadtwerke Solingen: The Administrative Court of Düsseldorf ruled on 5 September 2018 that municipal companies may not circumvent the Freedom of Information Act with a confidentiality agreement. Stadtwerke Solingen must therefore make public who had bought their old trolleybuses.

What is transparency litigation?

The Freedom of Information Act (IFG) 2005 for the first time introduced the principle that citizens have a right to know what their federal administration is doing. There are similar regulations in most of the federal states. Hence, according to § 1 I 1 IFG:

Everyone has a right of access to official information in accordance with this law vis-à-vis the federal authorities.

Previously, a right to information existed only if it was expressly created. Now, the rule-exception relationship has been reversed: as a rule, information must be provided, and only in exceptional cases may it be refused, for example if the rights of third parties are affected or if publication of the information could endanger public security. These grounds for refusal are also regulated in the IFG.

However, public authorities are often too secretive with their information and wrongly deny the right to information. In this case, an objection can be lodged within one month and - if this is also rejected - an action for annulment can be brought under the Freedom of Information Act.

We call these actions under the Freedom of Information Act "transparency litigation" because, if successful, they increase the transparency of politics and administration in Germany.

What does the GFF do?

From 2016 to 2019, the GFF supported transparency lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act in cooperation with "Frag den Staat", a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation.

"Frag den Staat" supports individuals and organisations in making requests under the Freedom of Information Act (or an equivalent provision under the laws of the German states).

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