Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The Dzerzhinsky District Court of St. Petersburg, Russia held that federal executive authorities must publish certain information, specified in a government decree, on the Internet. This case established that there is a constitutional right of access to information and declared that citizens have a right to access certain information on the Internet.
This analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.
In 2005, a citizen of the Russian Federation, Yurij I. Vdovin, applied to the Court (1) to declare illegal the inaction of certain federal executive authorities that had not put information about their activities on the Internet, and (2) to order these federal authorities to create their own information resources (websites) as required by Government Decree No. 98 of 12 February 2003. This Decree required government and federal executive authorities to post information about their activities on various information platforms, including the Internet. The Decree specified the categories of information that had to be posted, the most important of which were the following:
Federal executive authorities argued that they were not obliged to post the requested information because the Law of 2006 on Access to Information, which required all governmental organs to have their own official websites, had not been adopted. The authorities also argued that they have published information online per Decree 98.
First the Court outlined the Russian law concerning the right to information. The Court declared 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.
The Court then looked to Decree No. 98. It reiterated that although the Decree obliged federal executive organs to post information in a timely and regular manner, it did not impose an obligation on them to create their own websites (they could use websites of superior bodies instead).
However, the Court dismissed the federal executive authorities’ argument that they met obligations under Decree 98 as they regularly posted information about their activities in print publications, TV and radio, and online. The Court highlighted that some information was only shared on the “Consultant” and “Garant” platforms, which required a payment to access. Additionally, the authorities did not publish information on existing government websites in full, as mandated by Decree 98.
According to the Court, the facts of the case established that the federal authorities arbitrarily selected information to publish online. This was in contradiction to the Decree, which obliged all federal agencies to publish information .
On the basis of the above, the Court ordered the Federal Protective Service (the only executive authority that did not have its own website at the time and did not use other governmental websites) to create a website and post all required information; and ordered the other federal authorities, that already had a website or used websites of superior bodies, to post all information specified in Government Decree No 98.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case not only established that there is a constitutional right of access to information but also declared that citizens have a right to access certain information on the Internet.
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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