Thursday, May 1, 2008

An Access Request: A Purpose is Needed

One of international best practices is that anyone should be available to exercise the right to know without any grounds or legal interests. Most FOI laws do not require requesters to provide reasons for their request with the exception of the Italian legislation.[1] Iyer argues that an ideal right to know allows anyone to request information without having to show a reason why they are asking for that.[2] This requirement is slightly unclear under the China’s FOI Regulations. The Regulations enables citizens, legal persons or other organizations to request information held by government agencies in accordance with their needs in business, daily life, research or other special needs (Article 13). It seems that the purpose for information requested is required. Horsley expresses her concern that government agencies might refuse access requests with an excuse that information requested does not meet with requesters’ special needs.[3]Her concern is right after the promulgation of Several Suggestions on Implementation of the China’s Freedom of Information Regulations on 29 April 2008.[4] This document clearly states that government agencies may refuse to provide the information requested if it is no relevance to a requester’s special needs (production, daily life, scientific research or the like). In Shanghai, the purpose for a request is required to be provided before sending an access request; however, in practice, Shanghai government agencies have not considered this as a reason to refuse access requests.[5]

[1] Article 22 (1) of the Law on Administrative Procedure 1990 requires that those who request information should have a ‘direct, practical, and actual interest based on a legally regulated case in relation to the document for which access is required’.

[2] Venkat Iyer, Freedom of Information: Principles for legislation (2000) UNPANat 13 November 2006.

[3] Jamie Horsley, China Adopts First Nationwide Open Government Information Regulations (2007) Freedom of Information Organizationat 28 August 2007.

[4] The General Office of the State Council, Several Suggestions on Implementation of the China’s Freedom of Information Regulations Guobanfa[2008]No.36.

[5] Chen Zhong and Xiao Lu, Shanghai Issued its New FOI Rules (2008) Caijing <>at 1 May 2008.

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