Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The Tel-Aviv District Court ordered an Israeli health care facility to disclose documents relating to a donation from a private donor. The Court held that the Israeli freedom of information organization seeking the information on the conditions on the donation was entitled to the disclosure, on the grounds that the public has a right to know agreements made between public entities and private donors.
This case analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.
The Israeli organization, Movement for Freedom of Information (FOIM), submitted a request to the Commissioner General of Health Services (Commissioner) for disclosure of a donation agreement between Clalit Health Services (a public entity and Israel’s largest health services provider) and the Schneider Family. A recently-published newspaper article had indicated that Lynn Schneider, chairperson of the Schneider Family Foundation, was involved in the firing of hospital staff and that the donation agreement reserved for the Foundation the right to participate in hospital management. The Commissioner denied the request and FOIM brought an application to the District Court in Tel-Aviv, sitting as an Administrative Court, seeking disclosure of the information.
The Court was required to determine whether the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act) applied to the agreement between Clalit and the Schneider Foundation.
Clalit argued that providing the information that FOIM sought was an infringement of the right to privacy, and that, in any event, the agreement had been signed many years before the adoption of the Freedom of Information Act, 1998.
The Court noted that, by withholding the requested donation agreement from publication, Clalit would deny the public the right to know about the communications between public bodies and donor organizations and so deprive people of an opportunity to comment on important issues. The Court confirmed that the right to access such information enables the public to affirm or reject the activities of the public bodies meant to serve them.
The Court rejected Clalit’s argument that the legislation did not apply to the agreement because the agreement was signed before the FOI Act was enacted; the Court ruled that such an interpretation would deprive the FOI law of its content.
Further, the Court noted that when a private entity engages with a public authority it should assume that details of any agreement (which are not personal) would be available to the public for scrutiny.
Finally, the Court dismissed the concern that its ruling would stifle charitable donations by ruling that private information, such as amounts and schedules of contributions, could be removed from the information disclosed.
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