Regulating access to information of public interest has transformed the need to know of citizens into the right to know.
Every year, on September 28, the International Day of the Right to Know is celebrated worldwide. It is a holiday that was founded in 2002, during a meeting of supporters of access to information, organized in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The purpose of the International Day of the Right to Know is to promote and draw attention to the right of every individual to have access to information of public interest. This holiday is based on nine principles:
- free access to information is considered to be a right of every individual;
- the rule is the existence of access to information, and the secrecy of information is the exception;
- the right to access information applies to all public institutions;
- submitting requests for information must be easy, fast and free;
- officials have a duty to assist those who submit requests for information, and refusals must be substantiated;
- the public interest is more important than keeping the information secret;
- everyone has the right to challenge an adverse decision;
- all state institutions must publish important information of public interest;
- the right of access to information of public interest must be ensured by an independent entity.
According to art. 31 of the Romanian Constitution, “the right of the person to have access to any information of public interest cannot be restricted, and public authorities, according to their competences, are obliged to ensure the correct information of citizens on public affairs and personal matters; the public and private mass media are obliged, in their turn, to ensure the correct information of the public opinion ”.
In order to request certain information of public interest, we can resort to the democratic instrument provided by Law no. 544/2001, which includes provisions on ensuring and organizing access to information of public interest, the procedure for requesting and obtaining information from public authorities, limits and exceptions to the right to information, special provisions on access to mass media to information of public interest. public interest, as well as the corresponding sanctions.
Law no. 544/2001 can be consulted here.
Through information of public interest, as it results from art. 2 lit. b), is understood any information regarding the activities or resulting from the activities of a public authority or institution, regardless of the support, form or way of expressing the information.
However, the need for national security, order, health, public morality and the market economy presupposes that some information of public interest be kept secret.
And in art. 53 of the Romanian Constitution mentions that the restriction of the exercise of certain rights or freedoms may be ordered “only by law and only if necessary, as appropriate, for the defense of national security, order, public health and morals, rights and freedoms, the conduct of criminal investigation, the prevention of the consequences of a natural calamity, of a disaster or of a particularly serious accident ”.
According to the legal regulations, the public authorities have rights and obligations regarding the communication of information. According to art. 3 of Law no. 544/2001, ensuring the access to the information of public interest by the public authorities and institutions is done ex officio or upon request, through the department for public relations or of the persons designated for this purpose.
Law no. 544/2001 on free access to information of public interest arose from the need to defend the major interests of the state, in the field of national security, the interests of legal entities under public or private law, but also the interests of individuals, in order to avoid possible damage .
Moreover, according to art. 7 of Law no. 544/2001, public authorities and institutions have the obligation to respond in writing to the request for information of public interest within 10 days or, as the case may be, within 30 days from the registration of the request, depending on the difficulty, complexity, volume of works documentation and urgency of the request. On the other hand, the refusal to communicate the requested information is motivated and communicated within 5 days from the receipt of the petitions.
Adoption of Law no. 544/2001 on access to information of public interest was an important step taken by our country in the administrative reform, because it contributed, to some extent, to increasing the responsibility of institutions and public authorities to the activities undertaken.
However, the mere existence of this law cannot lead to a significant change in the administrative system in Romania. This requires a double effort: both on the part of the administration, which must respect and implement the provisions of this law, and on the part of the citizens, who should know and use this democratic instrument.
Article by: Gabriela Lucia Neagu