Brazil's new information access law goes into effect

Brazilians can now count on an Information Access Law to obtain data and non-secret government documents without having to provide justification for their information requests. The information access law went into effect on Wednesday, May 16, making Brazil one of 91 countries with freedom of informationlaws, reported ABC News and the newspaper Zero Hora. Also, the decree that regulates this law was signed by President Dilma Rousseff.

The long struggle for this law to be approved was supported by organizations, such as the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji in Portuguese), the NGO Article 19, and the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, as well as journalists, such as Fernando Rodrigues, who is the leader of the campaign for the right to information access in Brazil.

The Brazilian law guarantees access to financial expenditures and contracts, as well as general data on programs, actions, projects and other public works, and is applied to all levels of the government (city, state, and national) and the three powers (legislative, executive, and judicial). Compared with other information access laws, such as those in Chile and the U.S., this law is a step forward. Details of the existing law can be found in this publication by Article 19 and in this booklet by the Comptroller General. To better understand the law, the portal G1 and Povo Online highlighted the main points. The full text of the law can be found here.

The website Contas Abertas said that, among the basic principles of the law that manage how information is made available, are: “observance of making public information as the general principle and secrecy as the exception”; “the publishing of information of public interest, independent from requests”; “the use of news media enabled by information technology”; “encouraging the development of a culture of transparency in the public administration,” and “the development of social control of the public administration.”

Although the bill was passed in November of 2011, giving 180 days for governments to prepare for when it would take effect, not all public bodies were able to prepare to adapt to citizens' information requests. The main problems are at the state and municipal levels where not all entities have Internet access, or local regulations of the law to put it into practice, said the Portal Terra.

The federal government seems to be better prepared to comply with the new law, favoring transparency by creating an online platform to monitor requests called the Electronic System for Information Service for the Citizen (e-SIC). On its first operating day, the system registered 708 queries before 6 p.m., according to a statement released earlier in the evening by the Comptroller General.

It is still too early to know whether, despite the new law, Brazil will fall under the sad statistics recently published by the Associated Press that show more than half of the information access laws in Latin America are not met. Political scientist Greg Michener said he believes that in order to be effective, the law depends on media and public support.

Organizations and citizens celebrated the enactment of the information access law via social networks. The hashtag #QueremosSaber, or "we want to know," reached Twitter's Trending Topics by the end of the day. See the Storify below to follow comments made on Twitter.