Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The Supreme Court of Costa Rica protected a journalist’s right of access to public information by ordering the Ministry of Labor to deliver data concerning individuals and legal entities that had received warnings from the Ministry for not complying with minimum wage regulations. The Ministry denied the journalist’s request for information arguing it was confidential. The Court found that the requested information was not included in any legal exception that justified refusing its disclosure.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security (Ministerio del Trabajo y Seguridad Social) conducted an investigation aimed at identifying individuals and legal entities that violated regulations on the payment of minimum wages to their workers.
The journalist Alejandro Fernández requested the results of the investigation from the Ministry, but the public office rejected the petition, arguing that the data was not public and could only be disclosed when a claim reached judicial courts. It also indicated that although the investigation had yielded some names in the first phase, a second phase was still pending.
The journalist filed a claim (amparo action) to protect his right of access to information. The Court granted his request.
The Supreme Court of Costa Rica had to decide whether the information collected by public entities regarding persons and companies that have possibly incurred in a breach of the minimum wage rules is of public interest, and should be provided to the plaintiff.
The Court indicated that the right of access to information serves as a “control mechanism in the hands of the people since it allows society to oversight the legality and timeliness, convenience or merit, and, in general, the effectiveness and efficiency of the public administration” [par. IV]. The Court highlighted that this right is the basis for adequate participation of citizens in civic oversight and, therefore, the State must give priority to its protection. In the Court’s opinion, the State must ensure that persons requesting public information receive the data in a complete and truthful manner and that they may disseminate it by any means unless there are legal exceptions.
In the specific case, the Court held that the requested information had been wrongfully refused. It held that, since it was a matter of public interest, as a rule, it could be disclosed [par. V]. In the Court’s opinion, the Ministry should have granted the request because the journalist was not asking for information on a specific person or company, but for the complete list of those who had allegedly failed to comply with the legal obligation to pay the minimum wage to their workers. For the Court, when the information relates to the violation of legal obligations, the data is of public interest. It also stated that the requested information did not fall into any of the strict exceptions established by the law that would allow to classify the data as confidential, (for example, compromising national security or foreign relations, or violating the right to privacy of a person).
Thus, the Court ordered the Ministry of Labor to deliver the requested information to the journalist.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision strengthens the principle of maximum disclosure and reinforces the strict interpretation criteria when imposing restrictions on the right of access to public information. Thus, it expands the international standards enshrined in the Claude Reyes v. Chile judgment from the IACtHR and in the reports of the IACmHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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