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New FOI law lauded by IFEX groups as boon to transparency and democracy

It took eight years since its initial proposal but Brazil's Senate has passed a comprehensive Freedom of Information (FOI) Law that goes a long way to promoting government transparency and the democratic participation of citizens and the media, report the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI), ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The FOI Law was passed by the Senate on 25 October and while it still needs to be approved by President Dilma Rousseff, this is seen largely as a formality as Rousseff supported the original drafting of the law while working for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, according to ARTICLE 19.

Under the law, all public bodies and all levels of government will be required to release certain information to the entire public through the Internet, public hearings and citizens' information services. Individual information requests must additionally be responded to within a designated time period.

Furthermore, whereas information was previously classified as secret for indeterminate periods, the law dictates that information classified as "reserved" must be made available to the public after five years, "secret" information after 15 years and "top secret" after 25 years. Top-secret documents can have their classified status renewed only once, according to ARTICLE 19.

In a very important provision, all information relating to human rights violations perpetrated by public officials cannot be exempt from disclosure, according to ARTICLE 19. RSF hopes the legislation will see the release of information about military officers responsible for murdering journalists under the 1964-1985 dictatorship.

While the law is being touted as "fundamental to democracy" as Paula Martins of ARTICLE 19 put it, there are some shortcomings. For one, the law does not create an independent information commission, ARTICLE 19 points out. ABRAJI also notes that some of the law's aspects are unclear, including government reporting duties around budgetary issues.

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  • Senate approves Freedom of Information Law

    The text of the law was modified at the Chamber of Deputies and has waited for the approval by the Senate since May 2010.

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