These are the Google Translated versions of the original French.
We are trying to obtain regional data for Belgian communes to use for our study, as well as nationality or group level data for general interest. You can see the preliminary analyses here.
Needless to say, it is hard to find out what is actually happening when data are systematically being withhold for unexplained ethical reasons. One email even acknowledges that the data are “anonymous statistical data”, making it hard to see what ethical violation would be made.
Is it legal?
Usually, countries have a legal framework for which reasons can be used to deny FoIA requests. The Belgian law is summarized here. Here’s the Google Translate version in English:
The administrative body then examines whether one or more grounds for an exception are or may be invoked. This also applies to documents of a personal nature, even if it has been found that the applicant has demonstrated the required interest.
The Act of 11 April 1994 on publicity of the administration defines three types of exceptional grounds.
A first group of exceptional grounds is defined in Article 6 (1). These are to be invoked and apply to all administrative authorities, also non-federal, to the extent that, on grounds Of this Act prohibits or restricts the disclosure of administrative records “. The specific element of these grounds of exception is that publication may be refused only if the administrative authority has found that the interests of advertising do not outweigh the protection of one of the following interests:
- The security of the population;
- The fundamental freedoms and rights of the citizens;
- The Belgian federal international relations;
- Public order, security or national defense;
- Investigation or prosecution of punishable offenses;
- A federal economic or financial interest, currency or public credit;
- The confidential nature of the business or manufacturing information communicated to the authority;
- The confidentiality of the identity of the person who communicated the document or information to the administrative authority on a confidential basis in order to denounce a punishable or supposed fact.
A second group of exceptional grounds is defined in Article 6 (2). These must also be invoked and apply to all administrative authorities. In this context, publication must be refused where the administrative authority finds that the publication of the administrative document infringes :
- Privacy, unless the person concerned has given prior written consent to the consultation or communication in the form of a copy;
- An obligation of secrecy established by law;
- To the secrecy of the deliberations of the Federal Government and of the responsible authorities under the federal executive power or to which a federal authority is associated.
It is not the interest in itself that is protected, but rather the fact that publication would prejudice one of these interests.
The third group of exceptional grounds is defined in Article 6 (3). These grounds of exception are of an optional nature and may be invoked by the federal administrative authorities only if the request:
- Concerns an administrative document, the disclosure of which may give rise to misunderstanding, the document being incomplete or incomplete;
- Concerns an opinion or opinion communicated freely and in confidence to the authority;
- Is manifestly abusive;
- Is clearly too vague.
The Act of 12 November 1997 on the publicity of the administration in the provinces and municipalities contains only this third category of exceptional grounds, but states explicitly that it is also necessary to take into account ” the other exceptions established by the Law, decree or order on grounds relating to the exercise of the powers of the federal authority, the Community or the Region “.
Definitely denying it with a reference to ethics is illegal. Can they find a useful substitute? Belgian federal international relations? Terrible Belgians published data Denmark already published? Is manifestly abusive? There is nothing abusive about group averages. Fundamental freedoms and rights of the citizens? What right? There is no right not to be included in some published average number, as obviously everybody in the country already is in a multitude of ways. Whatever post hoc reason they come up with, it doesn’t seem to be legal and can be challenged in court.