General News

Official secrecy abolished, Freedom of Information Act passed


After years of political debate, Parliament has just passed the Freedom of Information Act (IFG), which will come into force in September 2025. At the same time, the Federal Constitution Act was amended to remove the obligation to maintain official secrecy. The IFG is intended to "make government transparency the rule and secrecy the exception, and to make government action as transparent as possible for everyone".

In order to achieve these objectives, information of general interest must be made available by the administrative bodies in an information register at free of charge and, in principle, accessible at any time. Information of general interest within the meaning of the IFG is information that concerns or is relevant to a general group of people, in particular such business organisation, rules of procedure, activity reports, official gazettes, official statistics, studies, expert opinions, surveys, statements and contracts prepared or commissioned by bodies obliged to provide information with a value of at least € 100,000.00. This information register must be equipped with a search function and regularly updated.

This obligation to keep an information register has two weaknesses: Municipalities and associations of municipalities with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants are not obliged to publish and no sanctions are provided for if the administrative bodies do not fulfil the publication obligation. The IFG also creates the possibility for any natural or legal person to apply for access to information, whereby "the information must be described as precisely as possible". Access to the information must be granted without undue delay, but at the latest within four weeks of receipt of the request by the competent body; for special reasons, the deadline may be extended by a further four weeks.

If access to the requested information is not granted, a decision must be issued within two months upon written request by the person seeking the information. This can be appealed to the administrative court. Both with regard to the obligation to publish information in the information register and access to information, the administrative bodies may take into account reasons of secrecy, such as, in particular, the interests of national security or defence against significant economic or financial damage. In practice, the next few years will show to what extent the legislator's aim of achieving the greatest possible transparency of government action will actually be realised.

This guest commentary originally appeared in Horizont on March 27, 2024.