Organizations launch collaborative site that compiles requests made through access to information law in Brazil

The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) and nonprofit Transparency Brazil launched the project Achados e Pedidos (Request and Found), which aims to be the country’s largest platform for requests and responses to the Law of Access to Information (LAI), as well as a tool to monitor compliance with the legislation.

The law, which came into force in 2012, created mechanisms so that any citizen can demand information from public entities and agencies, without having to submit a reason for the request.

The platform, launched March 10, brings together LAI requests and answers from the legislative, executive and judicial branches at the municipal, state and federal level. With this, the site will allow the user to do a single search on databases that would otherwise be scattered. For example, if a journalist wants information about a particular official that is kept by different agencies, he will be able to search for that official’s name in the platform and come up with multiple results in one single search. The results may be on salaries from government agencies, lawsuits filed against them, etc.

Currently, there are few bodies that publish LAI requests and responses for consultation, according to the project’s creators. Therefore, there is a huge amount of public information that is accessible only to those who filed the claim via the LAI.

“On the platform, anyone will be able to find data that has already been obtained without having to make the same request again,” explained Abraji’s executive manager, Marina Atoji, at the launch event. This also makes it easier for civil servants who do not need to send the same answer several times. “A journalist can also take advantage of a request that has already gone through, and present it to a different agency from another city or state,” Atoji said.

Another advantage of the platform is that it presents the data in a more accessible way than many public sites. Transparency Brazil’s research coordinator, Juliana Sakai, pointed out that with Achados e Pedidos, it’s possible to make detailed searches of the request and response content, including the attached documents – which can also be downloaded from the site.

To build the initial database, launched with more than 23,000 requests, Abraji and Transparency Brazil partnered with public agencies, such as the federal, state and municipal executive administrations of São Paulo, the city council of Rio de Janeiro, among others. They also asked for participation of companies, journalism organizations and nonprofits like Ação Educativa, Aos Fatos, Agência Lupa, Artigo 19, Fiquem Sabendo, Instituto Sou da Paz etc.

Throughout the project, more partnerships with public administrations will be carried out, but the information base will also grow with the collaboration of users. The platform allows anyone to post an LAI request or response that they have obtained from a public agency. In order to avoid fraud, you must register and include some personal information, such as your Taxpayers Registry number (CPF in Portuguese).

Transparency Brazil will be responsible for moderating the material, preventing any false requests from being published. The platform also provides the possibility to report errors and manipulations in the request content. “If the information is wrong and we are called on to verify it, we will check with the public entity and ban the user from the site,” Sakai said.

Another control mechanism is the identification of the person or entity that published the request, such as the Court of Auditors or Article 19, for example. The profiles can also be evaluated with stars by other users, according to the credibility and quality of the material posted to the site.

Monitoring the law

One of the main goals of Achados e Pedidos is to create a database large enough to serve as a monitoring tool for the LAI. When you enter a finding, the user reports how long it took to receive the information, if it has been answered. It also points out whether the response was satisfactory or whether it required recourse through appeals, for example.

“With the data, we are able to generate statistics and analysis, for example, we can see which entity does not respond to requests or takes too long to respond. We will be able to make a very broad survey of compliance with the access law, which was not possible until now, because this is very segmented; each entity and each state has its own database,” Atoji explained.

“We will do qualitative analysis of the data and publish content on the site. And the platform will also be able to generate automatic reports,” Sakai said. According to the organizers of the project, the authorities usually feel that responding to a demand means having served it, even if they do not send the requested information.

“The use of the platform and the subsequent analysis will create new comparison data. The state provides the basis of requests and says that a large part of them are answered. We will see if they are in fact being met or if there are discrepancies in these values,” Sakai said.

The project, which includes free courses for journalists about the LAI, is funded by the Ford Foundation.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.