The right to access information is a fundamental human right, protected by numerous international conventions, by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia (Article 38, paragraph 4) and by the Right to Access to Information Act (NN 25/13 and 85/15).
Given that the realization of the right to access to information contributes to greater responsibility in the work of public authorities and to the more effective fight against corruption, it is a prerequisite for democratization of society and a means for citizens to obtain the information they need to exercise their rights.
The right to access information is achieved in two ways: through proactive publication of information on the websites of public authorities and by submitting requests for information to public authorities.
Thus, the right to access information includes the right of the user to seek and obtain information as well as the obligation of the public authority to provide access to the requested information, or to publicise information irrespective of the request made when such publication derives from an obligation stipulated by law or other regulation.
Right to access the information is based on the following principles:
- The principle of publicity and free access (Article 6) – Information are available to any domestic or foreign natural and legal person in accordance with the terms and conditions of this Law.
- The principle of timeliness, completeness and accuracy of information (Article 7) – Information that public authorities publish or make available must be timely, complete and accurate.
- The principle of equality (Article 8) – The right to information access and the right re-use of information belong to all users in the same way and under the same conditions. Users are equal in realization of this right. Public authorities should not put users in an uneven position, especially by providing the information to particular users before other users, or in favorising manner.
- The principle of free information disposal (Article 9) – a user who has information in accordance with this Act has the right to make this information publicly available.
- Principle of mutual respect and cooperation (Article 9a) – Relations between public authorities and users are based on cooperation and assistance, mutual appreciation and respect for the dignity of the human person.
The reuse of information is defined as the use of information by public authorities by natural or legal persons for commercial or non-commercial purposes other than the original purpose for which such information are made. Namely, in the fulfillment of their public duties, public authorities collect, produce, reproduce and distribute certain information by means of public budgetary resources, and should therefore be used in the best possible way to encourage the economy or to make better use of their potential. Exchange of information between public authorities for the purpose of carrying out activities within their scope does not constitute re-use.
Information that are publicly disclosed on the website of the public authorities in a machine readable form and open format so that everyone can freely use it for commercial or non-commercial purposes are called open data. The public portal for open data disclosure is the Open Data Portal http://data.gov.hr/, metadata catalogue that enables easier search of open data.
Public authorities will restrict access to information regarding all proceedings conducted by the competent authorities in pre-trial and investigative actions during these proceedings.
Public authorities may restrict access to information:
- if the information is classified by a degree of confidentiality, in accordance with the law governing the confidentiality of the data;
- if the information is a business or professional secret, in accordance with the law;
- if the information is a tax secret, in accordance with the law;
- if the information is protected by a law regulating the area of personal data protection;
- if the information is protected by regulations regulating the intellectual property right, except in the case of explicit written consent of the right holder;
- if the access to information is restricted in accordance with international treaties, or if the requested information is generated in the process of concluding or joining international agreements or negotiations with other states or international organizations until the completion of the proceedings, or if the information falls within the scope of maintenance of diplomatic relations;
- in other cases determined by law.
Public authorities may restrict access to information if there are grounds for suspicion that its disclosure:
- disable effective, independent and impartial conduct of judicial, administrative or other legal proceedings, execution of a court decision or punishment,
- disable the work of bodies that perform administrative supervision, inspection supervision, or oversight of legality.
Also, public authorities may restrict access to information if:
- the information is in the process of drafting within one or more public authorities, and its pre-mature publication before completion of complete and final information could seriously undermine the process of its creation;
- the information has been made during harmonization in the adoption of regulations and other acts and in the exchange of views and opinions within one or more public authorities, and its disclosure could lead to misreading the content of information, endangering the process of adopting regulations and acts or the freedom to give opinions and expressing attitudes.
The user of the right to information and reuse the information is any domestic or foreign natural or legal person.
Public authorities include state administration bodies, other state bodies, local and regional self-government units, legal persons and other bodies with vested public authority, legal entities established by the Republic of Croatia or a unit of local or regional self-government, legal entities (regional) self-government units, ie public funds (money, grants, etc.), as well as companies in the state budget, which are financed by the state budget or from the budget of local and regional self-government units to which the Republic of Croatia and the units of local and regional self-government have individually or jointly majority ownership.
Information is any information held by public authority in the form of a document, record, file, register, regardless of the manner in which it is displayed (written, drawn, printed, recorded, magnetic, optical, electronic or any other record), which is created by public authority, either alone or in co-operation with other authorities or is received from another person, and was created within the scope of or in connection with the organization and work of the public authorities.
The information officer is the person responsible for solving the exercise of the right of access to information employed by the public authority body.
The information officer:
- performs regular information publishing activities, in accordance with the internal organization of public authority, and resolves individual requests for access to information and for reuse of information,
- Improves the manner of processing, sorting, storing and publishing information contained in official documents relating to the work of the public authority,
- Provides the necessary assistance to applicants related to exercising of their rights established by the RAIA.
The Central Catalog of Official Documents of the Republic of Croatia is a publicly accessible Internet tool that provides users with permanent access to documents stored in electronic documents and / or physical collections, either though full text and / or arranged metadata set.
The public authority body is obliged to resolve the request for access to the information no later than 15 days from the date of filing the due request.
The test of proportionality and public interest is an assessment of the proportionality between the reasons for providing access to information and the reasons for the restriction. In case that public interest prevail, the information will be disclosed.
The Ministry of Health has been requested to provide information on vaccine ingredients against a new type of avian influenza that has reached pandemic proportions. The vaccine was patented by a pharmaceutical company, and its ingredients are a business secret. The information officer was intending to reject the request on grounds of confidentiality of information. However, as the public suspected of mischievousness of the vaccine, the public authority carried out a test of proportionality and public interest. The test showed that the public’s interest in getting the vaccine ingredients prevailed over the damage that a pharmaceutical company would suffer from a breach of business secrecy, and the information officer provided the user with free access to the requested information.
The Information Commissioner is an independent body similar to ombudesperson institutions, which protects, monitors, and promotes citizens’ access to public information, based on the Right to Access Information Act.
Its basic function is to protect the citizen’s right of access to information as a supervisory body, to which citizens may file complains if their request for access to information were not solved in due time or if the information provided by public authority is not comprehensive or accurate. At the same time, the Commissioner oversees the work of about 6,000 public authorities, monitors the implementation of the Act and implements the Reuse Directive, promotes transparency, reports the Croatian Parliament and the European Commission, educates public authorities and citizens and cooperates with other bodies and international institutions. The law stipulates that the Commissioner is elected by the Croatian Parliament for a period of five years, based on a public call, and is assisted by an expert service (the Office of the Commissioner).