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[liberationtech] Hamburg’s Transparency Law to open government more than ever
ilf at zeromail.org
Mon Jun 25 07:09:43 PDT 2012
The Beatles played their first concert in Hamburg. Hamburg’s harbour is
one of Europe’s largest. Now Hamburg, one of Germany’s 16 federal
states, also has one of the world’s best transparency laws. Passed in
mid-June, the new law sets a precedent that might resonate in the
worldwide open government community.
The new 10-page Hamburg Transparency Law, was passed through the
parliament of city-state Hamburg with the support of all political
parties. Observers rubbed their eyes since the legal implications are
enormous. The law is so much more far-reaching than the most advanced
information of freedom laws at national level.
Activism and popular demand for transparency made the legal innovation
When three civil society groups teamed up last summer to fight for more
transparency in Hamburg, there was little in the way of funding, legal
support, or political backing for introducing such a new law.
This did not stop the Hamburg sections of Transparency International
Germany, More Democracy (Germany’s leading NGO for citizens rights and
participation) and the Chaos Computer Club (one of the oldest and
biggest hacker organisations).
> “We initiators all agreed that we can only reach our goal if everybody
> contributes its specific expertise” - Gerd Leilich, head of the
> Hamburg regional group of Transparency International
The activists decided to mobilise public pressure for legislative
change. In Hamburg, the law states that a referendum can be triggered
through a three-step process: first a people’s initiative, then a
people’s request for vote, and then the actual people’s referendum. The
people’s initiative started in October 2011.
Enough signatures were collected within the prescribed six weeks, and on
December, 9th, 2011, global anti-corruption day, 15.000 signatures were
handed to the Hamburg parliament, allowing the initiators to proceed to
the second level of the referendum process.
In the meantime, the initiative, which had given itself the name
Transparency creates Confidence, won an important supporter. The draft
law, originally drafted in a public online forum or wiki in a matter of
weeks, benefitted from the free legal advice of 78-year old former
supreme court judge Jürgen Kühling, who improved the content, structure
According to the Hamburg law on referenda the parliament has the
opportunity to start negotiations with the „people’s initatiors“. Over
weeks, many meetings were held, many discussions led, and in the end the
parliament decided to take over the law after some compromises had been
reached. It was not only the majority of parliament but also the
opposition parties who adopted the law. Some oppositions parties had
already backed the „people’s initiative“ right from the start. The
amazing victory happened.
Two factors helped the cause immensely.
Firstly, Hamburg’s previous government had lost a referendum just two
years ago on schooling policy and this had been a painful experience for
Secondly, the new Pirate Party entered four state parliaments in the
last 18 months, running mainly under the header of “transparency” and
putting a lot of pressure on the traditional parties regarding
transparency and open government.
The most far reaching transparency law in Western Europe?
What makes the law special? It turns the principle of government
openness upside down. The transparency law does not define a right to
information for citizens but the obligation for the government to
publish; without abolishing the right to information.
The law has created the legal obligation for the state government to
publish all public data (private data, naturally, remains private) in an
information register. (German speakers can read the law here)
The law addresses not only government and public authorities but also
quasi-public bodies and private legal entities in which the city-state
of Hamburg controls more than 50 per cent. The law specifically mentions
publicly owned, private legal entities which provide basic services.
The issue of business secrets is dealt with in paragraph 7. It
stipulates that legal entities, such as publicly owned companies,
entering into agreements with the city state of Hamburg have to declare
business secrets upfront and keep the documents separate. Of course the
reasoning of these legal entities can be questioned in court.
The law enters into force three months after its publication in the
statute books. The city-state then has two years to put the law in
place. This means ensuring that all information about the city’s
governance is available to the public in a machine readable format.
While we are still celebrating the victory, we realize that the work
only begins. As in other countries, laws can be undermined by problems
with implementation, technical challenges and administrative delay.
Let’s hope that the Hamburg transparency law is not only of the best of
such laws in the world on paper but also in reality.
Über 80 Millionen Deutsche benutzen keine Konsole. Klick dich nicht weg!
-- Eine Initiative des Bundesamtes für Tastaturbenutzung
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