Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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A citizen of Dominican Republic made a request to the government in order to obtain information regarding the congressional advisors working for the House of Representatives. The legislative body refused to disclose their names and individual income, pending their consent.
The Constitutional Court of Dominican Republic upheld the lower court’s judgment in favor of the citizen. Upon addressing both domestic laws and human rights standards, particularly Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Court held that the advisers’ right to privacy did not outweigh the citizen’s right to information, given that their names and income could not be deemed confidential and instead, they concerned matters of the public interest.
Muñoz, a citizen of Dominican Republic, requested information from the House of Representatives of the Congress about the number of advisors working for congressional representatives, their names, and information concerning their individual income. The legislative body provided the number of advisers, but did not disclose their names and income. It rather gave the total amount of earnings of all those advisers. In subsequent communications, the House also informed Muñoz that releasing the names required the consent of advisers.
Muñoz later filed an action against the House of Representatives, invoking his constitutional right to access public information. The High Administrative Court, sitting as a court of first instance, entered a judgment in his favor and ordered the House to disclose the information. The government then appealed the decision to the country’s Constitutional Court.
In order to decide whether Muñoz was constitutionally entitled to obtain the House advisers’ names and income, the Dominican Constitutional Court held saw it necessary to balance the competing fundamental rights to information and the right to privacy. It first explained regional and international standards on the right of access to information, specifically Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which has been ratified by the Dominican Congress. The Court also referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence on issues involving access to information. In the case of Claude Reyes v. Chile, ((Case of Claude-Reyes et al. v. Chile. Judgment of September 19, 2006, available at http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_151_ing.pdf.)) the Inter-American Court explained that obtaining public information from the government is essential to strengthening democracy and that the purpose of such access is to enable citizens to monitor the use and investment of public funds in order to prevent corruption. Yet access to information is not an absolute right and must be exercised, inter alia, within a framework of respect for the right to privacy and the protection of personal data.
The Constitutional Court here found that the right to privacy did not not outweigh the right to information, given that the names and salaries of the House advisers as government employees were not confidential. According to the Court, any other interpretation would establish an unreasonable limit that would prevent citizens from monitoring the use of resources and any corruption that may be taking place in the country. It explained that when the right of access to information clashes with the right to privacy, it must be assessed whether the requested information is of public interest. Here, the information was deemed a matter of public interest because it reflected the use of public funds.
In addition, the Court noted the Dominican law that recognizes the need to release information regarding government officials. For example, Article 3 of the Access to Information Act (Ley de Acceso a la Información) requires the government to maintain an ongoing, updated information service containing “lists of officials, legislators, judges, employees, categories, job responsibilities, and remuneration, as well as a financial disclosure statement when required by law.”
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision expands the scope of the right of access to information, as it extends current standards on the disclosure of information regarding government officials.
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 Constitutional Court is mandated to interpret and defend the Constitution of the Dominican Republic and its decisions are binding.
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