Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The Sofia City Court in Bulgaria held that when a member of the public requests access to an agreement between a government agency and a third party, the government agency is required to seek consent of the third party to disclose the information; mere assertion that disclosure would harm commercial interests does not suffice. The case concerned a request for information about a contract for the procurement of software licenses signed between the former Minister of State Administration and Microsoft worth more than 28 million USD. The Court reasoned that while protection of commercial secrets and prevention of unfair competition are legitimate grounds for non-disclosure, Article 31(2) of the Access to Public Information Act required a government agency to seek the consent of the third party to disclose the information. Further, even if consent was withheld, the government agency was obliged to disclose the information in the form and to the extent that it would not harm the third party.
This case analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.
Rosen Bosev, a journalist with Capital weekly, requested information about the contract and its terms for the procurement of software licenses signed between the former Minister of State Administration and Microsoft amounting to more than 28 million USD. Administrative Reform and Government Information Service (GIS), the body addressed, refused to grant access asserting that the contract concerned trade secrets and that disclosure would result in unfair competition. Arguing violation of the Access to Public Information Act the journalist lodged a complaint before the Sofia City Court.
The Court returned the information request for reconsideration. It held that protection of commercial secrets and prevention of unfair competition are legitimate grounds for non-disclosure. However, it also found that according to Article 31(2) of the Access to Public Information Act the respective body should seek consent of the third party to disclose the information. GIS was under an obligation to request Microsoft’s permission to release information, which it had failed to do. The Court further held that in the event that Microsoft refused to disclose the contract and its terms, GIS would still be obliged to exercise its discretion and provide information in the form and extent that would not cause harm to Microsoft.
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