February 9, 2013

No fees for freedom of information requests says Dutch Supreme Court

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 5:05 pm

Municipalities can only charge fees for personal services and responding to a freedom of information request is not such a service because it serves a common good.

That is the conclusion the Dutch Supreme Court reached yesterday.

In the past years municipalities often charged considerable fees for dealing with freedom of information requests in order to derail the process. RTL Nieuws refused to pay these fees and was sued by several local governments in reponse. According to De Nieuwe Reporter the municipality of Landgraaf lost its case, but Leerdam won. The Supreme Court was asked to provide clarity.

Municipalities can still charge fees for the form in which it responds to a freedom of information request (WOB-verzoek in Dutch), i.e. for photocopies and such. The Supreme Court made a point of mentioning this even though nobody had contested the issue.

Reporter Brenno de Winter sees the verdict as a starting point to get his money back: “It took me hundreds of hours to get rid of these fees. This lost time represents a lot of money to a freelancer like me. I am going to ask back fees that I had already paid and charge the municipalities for the time I lost. […] I am also studying options to criminally charge four civil servants because they threatened me with costs [of up to 30,000 euro] if I were to persevere with my information requests.”

De Winter was declared Journalist of the Year 2011 by the Dutch Association of Journalists NVJ because of his scoops concerning the bad security of both the OV transport card and government websites.

(Photo of journalist Brenno de Winter by Roy van Ingen, some rights reserved)

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May 9, 2011

Dutch freedom of information process ‘slowest in the world’

Filed under: General,IT by Branko Collin @ 10:49 am

A report by the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) claims the Dutch government is the slowest in the world in processing freedom of information requests. FOI consultant Rob Vleugels pointed out to Binnenlands Bestuur that Dutch ministries typically only employ four civil servants each for dealing with the requests. In comparison, the UK employs at least 80 people per ministry for this task. The British, unlike the Dutch, also train their people for doing FOI work.

Journalist Brenno de Winter thinks the problems with the execution of the FOI law centre around an incompetent government when it comes to IT.

Recently I had to wait 56 days for three photocopies. I had asked to receive the copies digitally, but they were incapable of doing so.

The citizens now foot the bill for bad automation. For years I have tried to uncover the extent of the problem, but the government is actively sabotaging me. They send me bills despite the courts telling them that such things is illegal, they take much more time to respond than they are allowed to, they claim national security issues, and they sometimes even just refuse to respond.

The Freedom of information act is called WOB in Dutch (Wet Openbaarheid Bestuur), and making a WOB request is called wobbing.

(Photo by Dennis Macwilliam, some rights reserved)

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March 26, 2009

Dutch municipalities reticent to comply with freedom of information act

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 11:34 am

Several municipalities have not only refused to comply with a WOB request (Dutch freedom of information act), but are actively discussing with each other how to frustrate the process. Webwereld reports this (Dutch) where Brenno de Winter is trying to find find out in how far municipalities are using Free and Open Source software.

On a closed mailing list, the municipality of Boekel (Noord Brabant) pointed out that not only would these WOB requests generate a lot of work, but also have “far reaching consequences,” whatever they may be. Boxtel and Schijndel, also from Noord Brabant, apparently replied that they too have received “nonsensical questions.” One of the suggestions was to hire an IT savvy lawyer. The name of Arnoud Engelfriet, formerly of Eindhoven, Noord Brabant, was dropped, who told Webwereld that he has no interest taking a job that “endangers a citizen’s right to freedom of information.”

In the meantime, De Winter has been replying in Webwereld’s comment section, and he seems to be suggesting that most municipalities that have responded, have done so in a positive manner: “[…] several municipalities have answered already. […] My phone is ringing all the time, and every time we manage to get to get a positive outcome.”

A 2008 informal study by journalist Jeroen Trommelen (Dutch) revealed that of 51 WOB requests sent to several ministries, only one came from an actual journalist.

Disclaimer: according to Webwereld De Winter’s WOB requests were made on behalf of him and the Vrijschrift foundation. I am an advisor to the latter.

Photo by Mark Crossfield, some rights reserved.

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