On November 26, 2015, the Bulgarian National Assembly adopted at second reading amendments to the Access to Public Information Act (APIA).
The amendments are directed at improvement of both the regulation for the provision of public information, as well as the regime of the so called re-use of public sector information.
The Access to Information Programme has taken an active part in all stages of the public debate and consultation process.
Enhanced proactive publication of information
The amendments introduce an extended list of 17 categories of information subject to proactive online publication replacing the current four (Art.15). An explicit duty is introduced to publish any information that has been provided on request more than three times. The public bodies shall be obliged to publish online information of public interest such as data related to risks to the citizens' life, health or security, property supplementing its current announcement by other means (Art. 14).
The heads of public bodies should adopt, review annually and update lists of information categories in addition to the ones provided by the law, related to the specifics of the relevant authority.
The amendments provide time frames for publication of information and sanctions for incompliance.
The amendments further guarantee that citizens can file e-requests with no need of electronic signature. The legal change responds to the malpractice of some public authorities to require the use of such signature. Public bodies could be requested to send documents also by e-mail or to refer to an URL where they are uploaded. Unlike the case with the provision of paper copies, signing a paper receipt will not be required for information delivered by e-mail.
There will also be a possibility for filing e-requests via a government maintained web platform, where the responses of the public bodies and the documents provided will be publicly available.
A presumption of Third Party Consent instead of Dissent
The current law provides for a procedure for public authority to ask a third party to give consent for the disclosure of requested information that affects it. In such cases a third party's lack of response within 14 days is considered a dissent and the public body is obliged to provide only partial access. After the amendments the lack of response will be presumed as consent and the information should be completely provided.
The Re-Use of Public Sector Information
The genuine purpose of the amendments was to introduce the Directive 2013/37/EU revising the first Directive on the Re-use of Public Sector Information (2003). The Directive 2003/98/EC on the Re-use of Public Sector Information was transposed in 2007 in the Access to Public Information Act. The obligations for provision of information under this regime are extended now.
Generally, the re-use regime prohibits any exclusive clauses in giving right to use whole data bases and obliges any public sector body in the EU states to provide equal availability of such data bases on equal conditions and costs related fees calculated in transparent way.
Public sector bodies and formats
The scope of the public sector bodies obliged to provide information for re-use is extended by the law changes to libraries, museums, and archives. The amendments made clearer the definition of a "public law organization" used for both access to information and information re-use purposes, including companies under the control of the state and the municipalities.
Public sector bodies shall be obliged to make their documents available as much as possible in open and machine- readable format together with their metadata. The standard licenses for the re-use of public sector information and its publication in an open format are to be set by a Regulation of the Council of Ministers.
Public sector bodies are to publish information in an open machine-readable format in a government Open Data Portal.
Fees and their calculation. Limitations on re-use
The fees for the re-use of public sector information held by public bodies should not exceed the material costs for its reproduction and provision.
When the information is held by the other organizations, the fee should not exceed the costs for its collection, production, reproduction and dissemination, together with a reasonable return on investment. The fees will be determined in line with objective, transparent, and verifiable criteria, determined by a methodology adopted by the Council of Ministers. A tariff will be adopted by the Council of Ministers for all public bodies except municipalities. The latter will elaborate their own tariffs.
The limitations on the re-use of public sector information are in line with the EU Directive and the Bulgarian legislation. In the cases of trade secret, the public sector bodies are obliged to perform the overriding public interest test.
The AIP has taken an active part in the campaign for the amending of the APIA during the past two years, taking part in all stages of the public debate and consultation.
Since October 2015, AIP holds trainings for NGOs in the country on the amendments to the APIA and the enhanced possibilities they give.