German Government Refuses FOI Request By Pointing Out Document Already Leaked

from the well-played dept

Freedom of information requests are a powerful way of finding out things that governments would rather not reveal. As a result, requests are often refused on a variety of grounds, some more ridiculous than others. The Netzpolitik blog points us to a rather unusual case concerning a request by the politician Malte Spitz for a letter from the Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery to members of a commission investigating intelligence matters. The request was refused on the grounds that the document was already freely available (original in German):
The information you requested may be obtained free of charge on the Internet by anyone, in a reasonable manner. The letter from the Chief of the Federal Chancellery, Federal Minister Peter Altmaier, to the chairman of the first committee of inquiry of the 18th legislature, Professor Dr. Sensburg, is publicly available and published in full at the following link:

https://netzpolitik.org/2014/drohung-des-bundeskanzleramtes-wir-veroeffentlichen-den-brief-in-dem-uns-altmaier-mit-strafanzeige-droht/
The Netzpolitik link included there leads to an article that a few weeks earlier had not only leaked the document requested by Spitz, but also noted wryly that the letter from Altmaier threatens anyone leaking documents with legal action.

The German bureaucracy should be applauded for taking the adult view that once a document is leaked, it is publicly -- and officially -- available. This contrasts with the childish attempts by the British government to pretend that Snowden's leaks never happened, and its refusal even to pronounce the name of some of the surveillance programs he revealed.

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Filed Under: foia, freedom of information, germany, leaks


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Nov 2014 @ 3:56am

    Well played indeed

    To not only admit that the document in question is freely available elsewhere, making their providing it redundant, but to actually provide a link to the document?

    That is how you show respect to those kinds of laws, and the public that is using them, and showcases the proper, and reasonable, response to leaked documents, totally contrasting against how the US and UK handle them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2014 @ 6:48am

    it seems to me that there is getting to be less and less difference between the governments of the so-called 'free world' and countries that have far more strict regimes and much greater control of the people.
    the one big difference is the 'free world countries' still condemn countries that exercise the 'no freedom, no privacy, censored' existence when they are doing the exact same thing, using 'terrorism' as the excuse! there is no excuse for not having freedom, not having privacy and being censored! that makes these governments worse than in the countries they condemn!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 24 Nov 2014 @ 7:44am

    Implicit Confirmation

    It is good that they acknowledge that the document is available, but they do not explicitly say whether or not the leaked document is a valid copy of an official government document. If you make a FOI request they should explicitly state whether or not the leaked document is an accurate reflection of the document that was requested. This gives the impression that it is accurate but provides enough wriggle room to make it unclear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 24 Nov 2014 @ 10:01am

      Re: Implicit Confirmation

      I think "published in full" means that it's an exact copy, no?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Coyne Tibbets (profile), 24 Nov 2014 @ 11:41am

      Re: Implicit Confirmation

      It looks to me like the decision is intended to deny the benefit of FOIA to the requestor. FOIA is formal: If you obtain a document via FOIA, they can't stop you from publishing it or any portion of it.

      Our government has threatened to prosecute even in cases of information that was long public--in some cases that was published formally by the government itself. Comes to mind a threat to prosecute someone if they dared to quote a public Supreme Court decision.

      So, what if you publish a copy of that "illegally published" leak?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2014 @ 1:24pm

    I don't know what the German laws are regarding their version of FOI requests, but if they're like the USG's, it might've been interesting to see what they would have redacted in an "official release" version.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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