Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
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The National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI) of Mexico ordered the Secretariat for Labor and Social Welfare to deliver all the information requested regarding the labor policy for people with disabilities, their respective social programs, and annual budgets, during the six-year terms of former presidents Vicente Fox Quesada, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, and Enrique Peña Nieto. A Mexican citizen, with multiple visual and motor disabilities, requested the aforementioned information from the Secretariat, in Word and MP3 (audio) formats. The authority delivered the information partially—the data did not cover all the required periods and excluded the information on annual budgets—in Word and PDF formats. The citizen filed a complaint before the INAI arguing that the Secretariat’s response breached their right of access to information.
The INAI concluded that the Secretariat failed to deliver all the requested information without providing any valid justification for denying the missing data. Likewise, the INAI held that the Secretariat failed to make the reasonable adjustments required by the petitioner by not providing the information in MP3 format, thus breaching their right of access to information.
On October 23, 2020, a Mexican citizen, with multiple visual and motor disabilities, requested from the Secretariat for Labor and Social Welfare of Mexico all the information regarding the labor policy for people with disabilities, their respective social programs, and annual budgets, during the six-year terms of former presidents Vicente Fox Quesada, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, and Enrique Peña Nieto, in Word and MP3 (audio) formats.
On December 8, 2020, the Secretariat for Labor and Social Welfare answered the request, in the following terms “(…) You are hereby informed that your request for information was redirected to the General Directorate of Social Welfare, the General Directorate of Programming and Budget, and the National Employment Service Unit, who issued a response through official letters, hereby attached.” In the response documents in Word and PDF format were attached.
On December 10, 2020, the appellant filed a complaint before the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI). The petitioner argued that the response provided by the Secretariat was incomplete since the delivered data did not cover all the required periods and excluded the information on annual budgets. The petitioner also argued that the Secretariat failed to provide the information in MP3 format, which they needed to review the information on a software, due to their disabilities.
On December 17, 2020, the Commissioner Rapporteur of the INAI admitted the complaint for review.
The National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data of Mexico had to decide whether the Secretariat for Labor and Social Welfare had breached the right of access to information of the petitioner by delivering the requested information—regarding the labor policy for people with disabilities, their respective social programs, and annual budgets, during the six-year terms of three former presidents—in an incomplete manner and only in Word and PDF format, although it was requested in MP3 format as well.
The INAI began by pointing out that Article 133 of the Federal Law provides that the Transparency Units must ensure that access to information requests are forwarded to the correspondent areas that have the information—or should have it in accordance with their duties—, so they can conduct an exhaustive and reasonable search. In the case at hand, the INAI noted that three administrative units were aware of the request and yet failed to provide a complete response with all the requested information.
The INAI held that the response provided by the defendant was incomplete and that the Secretariat did not conduct an exhaustive search of the requested information. As the Institute noted, the Decent Work Unit within the Secretariat, by virtue of its legal duties—i.e. promoting policies of inclusion in the workplace—could have completed or added to the response issued by the Secretariat, yet it did not do so. In light of this, the INAI concluded that the Secretariat failed to provide a complete response and to diligently search for all the requested data.
On the other hand, the INAI studied if the petitioner’s rights were violated, by not receiving the information in MP3 format. The Institute mentioned that the MP3 format is an audio format that could help the petitioner transform written language into spoken language.
Subsequently, the INAI mentioned that following article 136 of the Federal Law, access to information requests must be fulfilled in the preferred method selected by the petitioners. If this was not possible, authorities must provide new options and justify this decision.
Furthermore, the INAI also said that according to internal guidelines on internal procedures about access to information requests, whenever data is requested in an accessible format and the authority deems it impossible to satisfy this, the response must document the actions carried out in trying to fulfill it, and the reasons that ultimately hindered it.
The INAI explained too that requests for reasonable adjustments must be observed during the entire access to information procedure. Considering this, the INAI concluded that the Secretariat did not implement any of the adjustments required by the petitioner, although they explicitly requested the information be delivered in MP3 format. Moreover, the Secretariat did not justify or explain why it failed to do so.
Taking into consideration the aforementioned arguments, the INAI ordered the Secretariat for Labor and Social Welfare to carry out a new exhaustive and reasonable search in the Unit of Decent Work, regarding the requested information that was not originally provided. The results must be delivered, as required by the INAI, in both Word and MP3 format.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision expands expression as it safeguards the right to access public-held information of public interest. Moreover, this decision also provides a robust protection to access to information as it materially guarantees this right to people with disabilities. The INAI highlighted the importance of reasonable accommodations during access to information requests, throughout the entire procedure. This expands the scope of this right, as it makes available information to a historically discriminated group.
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