Climate ministry backs down on proposal to restrict access to public information

Keit Kasemets.
Keit Kasemets. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

At the end of October, the Ministry of Climate proposed an amendment to the Public Information Act to the Ministry of Justice, requesting additional document classification options. Following media coverage of the matter, Keit Kasemets, the secretary general of the ministry, sent a new letter asking for the previous proposals to be disregarded.

ERR wrote earlier this week that the ministry's proposals to amend the Public Information Act revealed a widespread desire to restrict public access to information and expand the possibilities to block documents from interested parties.

Kasemets proposed in his first letter, among other things, that the information collected during the monitoring procedure be subject to access restrictions, that the ministry be allowed to charge a fee for the execution of a large-scale request for information, and that a solution be found to deal with people who request information too often.

Kasemets filed a new letter to the Ministry of Justice on Thursday, reversing his previous statements.

"Following a more thorough examination, we have reached the conclusion that the Ministry of Climate's proposed revisions to the Public Information Act /.../ are not necessary. We advise against factoring them into the mapping of amendment needs," he said.

The secretary general of the Estonia's biggest ministry said that the law allows for a restriction of access to information for up to five years, with the possibility of extending it for another five more years, but in practice this means that the restriction is usually set for a maximum period without any substantive consideration of the need.

"A solution to change this practice could be to require separate justification for setting a maximum time limit," he said.

Kasemets said that the practical issues mentioned in the previous letter, such as instances where the author of a restriction on access fails to remove it despite criticism from other parties, remain unresolved.

The letter also addressed the instance in which a document remains classified as confidential even after the extension itself expires. The possibility of this happening has to be eliminated, the secretary general wrote.

"We recommend that before making any changes to the law, a thorough review of the practical limitations on access to information be carried out, with a view to ensure that any changes to the law provide the widest possible access to public information," Kasemets wrote in his latest position of the climate ministry.


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Editor: Karin Koppel, Kristina Kersa

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