Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The Krasnogvardejsky District Court of St. Petersburg, Russia, held that the responsible agency must publish national consumer product standards on its official website. The case was brought by a Russian citizen who complained that the responsible federal agency did not provide public and cost free access to documents containing technical requirements for consumer goods, services, and production. The Court ruled for the citizen and reiterated that the Russian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of information and obliges federal agencies to timely and regularly disclose certain information.
This analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.
In 2006, Yury Skobin, a Russian citizen, filed a claim asking the court to compel the Federal Agency for Technical Regulation and Metrology to publish on its official website the texts of national consumer product standards and all-Russian classifiers. These are normative-technical documents containing technical requirements for consumer goods, services, and production. Compliance with the standards is obligatory for manufacturers, and the information is important for both producers and consumers.
According to Article 3 of Government Decree No. 594 of September 25, 2003 on Publishing of the National Standards and Russian Classifiers of Techno-Economic and Social Information which was in force at the time, the responsible agency must publish texts of national standards and all-Russian classifiers on its official website.
The Agency, however, only provided hard copies of the documents for which it charged large fees, reaching several thousands of roubles depending on the number of pages. The Agency explained in court that (1) it provided access to this information by other means – in reading halls, specialized regional shops and internet shops; and (2) free access to information does not always mean access free of charge.
First the Court highlighted that article 29 of the Russian Constitution guarantees the right to search, receive, share, produce, and disseminate information using any lawful means. The right to information is regulated by articles 12 and 13 of the Russian Federation Law on Information, Informatization and Protection of Information. According to Government Decree No. 98 of 12 February 2003, federal executive bodies must publish information about their activities timely and regularly on publicly accessible information platforms, including the Internet.
Then the Court looked to the facts of the case. It confirmed that the Agency did not publish the information in question on its website and instead provided links to two online non-governmental publications that charged fees. The Agency defended the practice and explained that (1) it provided access to this information by other means – in reading halls, specialized regional shops and internet shops; and (2) free access to information does not always mean access free of charge. However, the Court, referring to the Decree No. 500 on the Federal Information Fund of Technical Regulations and Standards and the Unified System on Technical Regulation, declared that the publication of information requested by Skobin was meant to be financially subsidized by the Federal Government and made available to the public without additional fees.
The Court thus ordered the Federal Agency for Technical Regulation and Metrology to publish online the texts of national consumer product standards and all-Russian classifiers.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The case reiterated that federal agencies in Russia must publish certain information publicly and regularly and at no additional cost. Thus, the decision upheld the principle of maximum disclosure of information.
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.
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