The Tunisian parliament passed an Access to Information (AtI) law in 2016, which is considered to be one of the most open ones world-wide, in contrast to Germany’s relatively restricted access to information rights. After recent decades of dictatorship, the Tunisian public welcomes much greater public transparency, while in Germany concerns about abuse of personal data often tempers such enthusiasm.
These were some conclusions of a visit of the Tunisian Access to Information authority (Instance Nationale d’Accès à l’Information, hereinafter “INAI”) to Berlin, organised by DRI. Eight members and the Secretary-General of the INAI visited the German Freedom of Information and Data Protection Office (Bundesbeauftragte für den Datenschutz und die Informationsfreiheit, hereinafter – “BfDI”) for the first time. The INAI was established last year.
Despite the liberal AtI law, the INAI faces many challenges, as it is the first time in the Tunisian history that an independent body oversees the right to access to information. While the INAI has already passed landmark decisions, the exact extent of its mission is yet to be determined. The study trip served to compare notes with a longer established body and to study the intricate German legal framework.
The INAI delegation met with diverse stakeholders granting access to information in Germany: the Bundestag administration, German Foreign Office, Ministry of Justice, journalists, CSOs representatives and activists. They had the opportunity to visit the Federal Administrative Court and the Stasi Documentation Office in Leipzig, allowing to discuss wider topics as the role of AtI in reconciliation and educational reminiscence of a society which experienced life under a dictatorship.
One of the biggest take-aways for the INAI was to learn about the mechanisms with which Germany seeks to balance data protection and access to information. Long discussions were also held on the general exceptions of the right to access to information, which can be denied to Tunisian citizens only if causing prejudice to national security or to the privacy rights of a third party, while the German law carries more than a dozen of exceptional situations.
This event, organised by Democracy Reporting International in partnership with the BfDI, took place from 13 – 16 August – two days based in Berlin and one in Leipzig, contributing indirectly to the fulfilment of one of the missions of the INAI, included in Art. 38 of the Right to Information Law: exchanging experiences and expertise with foreign counterparts.
This study trip took place in the framework of DRI’s project “Support to Constitution Implementation in Tunisia – Phase II”, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.