Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The Constitutional Court of South Korea explicitly recognized a constitutional right to know and held that the complainant had the right to information relating to land in which he had a direct interest. The court held that the right to know was not absolute and must be balanced against the interest secured by any restriction. In this case the information posed no threat to the public interest, had not been classified as confidential and disclosure did not implicate the invasion of another’s privacy. The government’s failure to act on the complainant’s request breached his right to know.
This case analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org
The Petitioner inherited land that became the State’s property without his knowledge. The Petitioner made several requests to the Supervisor of the County for title records, surveys, and land tax ledgers held by the County. After the Supervisor withheld certain land surveys and private forests use surveys, the Petitioner filed a constitutional action against the Supervisor.
The Court ruled that right to information (a “right to know”) is a precondition of freedom of speech and press guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, and essential to that right is access to sufficient information which enables free formation of ideas leading to freedom of expression and communication.
Further, the court held that the access, collection and processing of information held by the government, was central to the public’s right to know and the public had a ‘claim-right’ to request disclosure of such information from the government.
However, the court went on to state that the right to know is not absolute and access to information can be reasonably restricted by balancing the interests of the person requesting information against the potential harm to the public interest.
In this case, restriction of access to information was unreasonable because the records had not been classified as confidential and disclosure did not implicate the invasion of another’s privacy, while the petitioner had a direct interest in the information. The court stated that disclosure to a person with a direct interest in the information, as was the case here, was mandatory
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case expands expression because it established for the first time that the right to know included the right to request information held by the government as part of the constitutional right under Article 21 of the Korean Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and press.
It was followed by others cases. In the Records Duplication Request case, CC90Hun-Ma133, the Court decided that the Prosecutor’s Office acted unconstitutionally when it denied a former criminal defendant the opportunity to obtain his trial records.
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.
The case established for the first time that the right to know included the right to request disclosure of information which was accordingly covered by Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech. The decision set a clear standard for the scope and limitation of disclosure that was subsequently adopted in the Act on Disclosure of Information by Public Agencies in 1996.
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