Brandenburg’s data protection officer, Dagmar Hartge, has called for a transparency law for the state that could oblige authorities to deal aggressively with files in public. This means that they would have to disclose administrative processes of their own accord, and not only at the request of citizens under the right to inspect files.
At the presentation of the activity report on file inspection for the years 2020 and 2021, Hartge lamented the stagnation in this field in Brandenburg on Monday. “Other countries are developing further,” said Hartge. There are now six federal states with transparency laws, and four others have decided to introduce them.
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Brandenburg, which was once the first state with the right to inspect files and even enshrined this as a basic right in the constitution, continues to be one of the refusers like Lower Saxony, Saxony and Bavaria. Why did the SPD-led country, in which the Left Party was in government for ten years until 2019, and the Greens in a Kenya alliance since 2019, go from being a pioneer to a latecomer? “I have no explanation for that,” Hartge said.
The interest of the population in understanding official decisions is definitely there. This is also confirmed by the current report. According to this, in 2020/21 the data protection officer received 203 complaints about access to files being refused or only incompletely granted by the authorities. In seven cases, the authority issued formal complaints, which, however, are not legally binding.
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This is one point where Dagmar Hartge is pushing for more powers. Another point is that the handling of environmental data by authorities in Brandenburg has not yet been the responsibility of the data protection officers, so in these cases no complaints are possible with Hartge if access to the files is denied.
A reprimand was received by an office director who had first refused to publish the minutes of a public meeting of community representatives, then only published them with the blacked-out names of the community representatives and demanded a fee of 200 euros for the blacking-out. “This contradicts the publicity of the meetings of municipal councils, to undermine them in this way,” said Hartge. The case leaves me “speechless”.
In another case, a savings bank had rejected a request via the “Ask the State” platform for information on the salaries of the board members and details of sponsorship and donation practices. Hartge agreed with the Sparkasse in relation to the remuneration of the board of directors, but could not understand why the Sparkasse did not want to make specific donations public, even with reference to banking secrecy.
Hartge also reprimanded the practice of the Potsdam City Hall, which had long refused to disclose an investigation report by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on the corona outbreak at the Potsdam Clinic “Ernst von Bergmann”, “and asserted pretty much all the reasons for the refusal of the law”. . Wrongly so, as the state data protection officials found out. In addition, “the media reporting on the subject did not leave many secrets”.
It was this newspaper that in 2020 made the RKI report on the grievances at the Bergmann Clinic public. Only a year and a half later, following the intervention of the Hartge authorities, did Potsdam City Hall give the go-ahead for disclosure. It happens again and again, said Hartge, that public authorities get applications off the table with thunderstorms of rejection.