Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The Chilean Transparency Council partially granted an acción de amparo filed against the Carabineros de Chile (Chilean police) and ordered the disclosure of information regarding the number of bombs or tear gas used in the metropolitan region, and purchased in the last 5 years until December 2019, detailed by month. Carlos Figueroa Salazar requested information about the number of bombs or tear gas purchased and used in the metropolitan region and the expenses incurred in procuring it. The Chilean Police denied access to most of the information on the ground that disclosing it posed a risk to national security and public order. The Transparency Council considered that the information requested did not compromise the security of the nation or the public order and that the Chilean Police failed to claim or properly justify the existence of a present and probable harm that disclosing the information would create.
On January 29, 2020, Chilean citizen Carlos Figueroa Salazar requested from the Carabineros de Chile (Chilean Police) a complete list of the number of bombs or tear gas purchased and used in the metropolitan region in the last 5 years, until December 2019 and disaggregated by month, and the expenses incurred to procure it.
On March 11, 2020, the Carabineros de Chile partially declined the request on the grounds that its disclosure posed a risk to national security, public order, and safety. However, it disclosed the information regarding the expenses it incurred in when procuring the aforementioned weapons, by submitting a table with the value of the ammunition acquired between 2015 and 2019.
On March 13, 2020, Carlos Figueroa Salazar filed an acción de amparo against the Carabineros de Chile to safeguard his right to access the requested public information. According to him, the Chilean Police unjustly denied him access to the required information. Furthermore, he added that the information provided regarding the expenses to acquire the ammunition was not delivered in a clear or complete manner. The Carabineros de Chile held that the information about the expenses was provided integrally and reiterated that disclosing the denied information posed a certain, probable, and specific risk of harm to public safety and national security.
The Chilean Transparency Council had to determine whether the decision issued by the Carabineros de Chile, denying access to information about the number of bombs or tear gas purchased and used in the metropolitan region, on the grounds that disclosing it posed a risk of harm to national security and public order and safety, was justified.
In the first place, the Council considered that the Carabineros de Chile correctly delivered the requested information regarding the expenses it incurred in between 2015 and 2019 to acquire ammunition. After analyzing the content of the delivered information, the Council held that it was complete and clear since it included the values, both in pesos and dollars, of the procured ammunition disaggregated yearly in the aforementioned period. In this regard, the Council considered that the information was properly disclosed.
Subsequently, the Council analyzed the justification given by the Chilean Police to deny the rest of the information. The Council mentioned that in order to properly justify the classification of information or to deny access to specific data for reasons of national security, it was not enough to merely invoke or mention such a concern. For the Council, authorities have to indicate with precision the facts and contextual cues, or background information, that prove the existence of a potential harm to national security.
To further develop this argument, the Council cited the Court of Appeals of Santiago, (case No. 618-2017), where such requirements were established. Thus, the Council argued that the Carabineros de Chile did not sufficiently substantiate the grounds that justified its decision to partially deny access to the requested information but merely alluded to generic, hypothetical, and subjective situations, without clearly detailing how the disclosure of the information posed a security risk or hindered the operation of the police’s activities.
Thus, the Transparency Council considered that what the Carabineros de Chile argued was not properly justified since it was not clear how the disclosure of the information on the number of bombs and tear gas used in the metropolitan region would affect or jeopardize the security of the nation. Therefore, the Council concluded that the Chilean Police failed to explain or prove that disclosing the information could pose a present and probable harm to national security or public order and safety. This, the Council concluded, meant that the information requested by the plaintiff was unjustly denied.
Taking into consideration these arguments, the Council ordered the delivery of the information —within five (5) working days— regarding the number of bombs or tear gas purchased and used in the metropolitan region in the period between 2015-2019, disaggregated by month.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision expands expression because it guarantees access to government-held information of public interest. Additionally, this decision established a high threshold that authorities must meet when invoking exceptions to deny access to information requests. In doing so, the Council fostered a better environment for transparency and citizen oversight.
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.
This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.
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