We have tried to sum up the FAQs addressed to our experts as well as their legal comment. We hope thereby to be of assistance in some common situations and give you the opportunity to better stand up your right of access to information.
What is the right of access to information?
The right of access to information is everyone's right to request and obtain access to information without showing any particular interest.
Do requestors need to explain what they need the information for?
No. No one should be required to give reasons why she/he need the information for. On the contrary, in case of refusal the obliged authority under the APIA shall motivate its decision by indicating the statutory exemption and the reasons justifying its refusal.
Are there special procedures with regard to privileged groups of requestors such as journalists, lawyers, researchers etc.?
No. The principle set forth by the law is equal access to public information for all. Everyone can seek access to information. No distinctions should be made between different groups of requestors, like journalists, scientists, lawyers, retailers, individuals, etc.
Who is obliged to provide access to public information under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA)?
Obliged bodies to provide information are:
- all state bodies, including their regional directorates/regional/local offices/territorial units;
All state bodies are obliged to provide information under the APIA. These include bodies of the executive - ministers, regional governors, state agencies, executive agencies, state committees, etc. The local units of the central authorities (for example the regional directorates of forestry, regional health centers, etc.) have the same obligations to provide access to information.
- local government authorities;
This category includes mayors and municipal councils. Besides mayors of the municipalities, the law obliges also the city mayors, and – in cities divided into districts – the district mayors.
- public law entities;
Apart from the state agencies, these are all authorities, which perform public functions prescribed by law. Public law-entities are for example: the National Health Insurance Fund, the National Social Insurance Fund, the Central Election Commission, the Electronic Media Council, etc.
- public law organizations as defined by §1 item 4 of the Additional provisions of the APIA;
- individuals and legal entities financed with funds from the consolidated state budget, subsidies from the European Union funds or allocated through EU projects and programmes.
Are state and municipal "enterprises" obliged to provide access to information?
What information can be sought under the APIA?
Any information regardless its form, which is generated or held by the state authorities, local authorities or other obliged under the APIA bodies.
Is the request for access to information an administrative service?
No. The access to information is a fundamental right, guaranteed by the Constitution (art. 41) of the Republic of Bulgaria. The information provided to natural or legal persons constituting an administrative service is necessary for verification, recognition or exercise of а right pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Code. Each administrative service is paid accordingly. On the contrary, access to public information is free of charge in principle.
Is it possible under the APIA to obtain archival information?
No. Access to documents in the National Archives is regulated by the National Archives Fund Act which sets the procedures for collecting, recording, processing and use of archival documents.
Is the procedure of access to public information the same as the procedure of access to personal data?
No. Access to personal data can be obtained under the Personal Data Protection Act
. Personal information is medical information, bank information, employment records etc. Access to public information with personal data can be obtained pursuant to the APIA. In these cases, the authority makes its own assessment on how to provide the information. For example, on the websites of the courts the decisions are uploaded, but the names, the identification numbers of the parties, addresses etc are blanked.
What information may be restricted from access?
The right of access to information is restricted if:
- it is classified as state or official secret;
- it relates to negotiations and to the preparatory work of an act and has no significance of itself – Art. 13, Para. 2 of the APIA;
- in specific cases where it affects third party’s interests (trade secret or personal data);
- access to the information has been granted to the requestor within the preceding six months.
Are there cases in which I shall be granted access to requested information, regardless of the application of any of the restrictions?
Yes. Even if there is a ground for refusal, information shall be provided if there is overriding public interest of its disclosure.
Overriding public interest is always at hand when the requested information aims at the revealing of corruption and abuse of power, increase of transparency and accountability of obliged to provide information bodies.
How to request access to information?
Information may be sought in the form of oral or written request. One can run both ways. According to the law, within each authority, officials should be appointed to handle access to information requests. Usually, information about the name, address, phone and opening hours of that person can be found on the website of the institution.
Do you have to pay for the information?
What shall I do if the authority refuses to grant me access to information?
If you have addressed an oral request and did not receive a satisfying answer you should submit a written request. If you did not receive the information after a written request you may appeal to the court. If you have any queries, contact the Access to Information Programme
Whom shall I address for assistance?