FragDenStaat – “Ask the State”
A brief overview
What does FragDenStaat do?
FragDenStaat is a project of the non-profit Open Knowledge Foundation Germany which enables every person irrespective of age and origin to file a request under the German Freedom of Information Act. Inquiries and responses are documented transparently on FragDenStaat.de.
We aim at:
facilitating the process of getting information from governmental administrations for all people;
documenting the citizen’s requests als well as the answers of the administrations transparently;
establishing a culture of freedom of information in Germany;
and strengthening the underlying laws
Platforms such as FragDenStaat are not exclusive to Germany. We have sister projects in several european and non-european countries, such as >Alaveteli with deployments all over the world, for example at EU-level or in Great Britain.
Some examples of our successes
Throughout the last years we started several campaigns via FragDenStaat and filed mass-requests to get information from many authorities at once.
In February 2016 for instance, the German Parliament (“Bundestag”) announced the release of thousands of previously non-public reports conducted by the Research Section of Parliament in reaction to our campaign FragDenBundestag! (“Ask Parliament!”).
The body known as Research Section (“Wissenschaftlicher Dienst”) is a panel of independent experts consisting of roughly 100 scientists and lawyers. Members of Parliament can turn to the Research Section for advice aiding them in making informed decisions, on topics they are not, or not as, familiar with.
Even though these reports technically fall under the FOI Act, they could previously not be requested that easily. Partly, because the specific nature of the documents was unknown, partly, because some MPs simply didn’t want the surveys to be public.
Within three weeks more than two thousand citizens had requested more than half of the reports. The office at the receiving end could not further cope with the flood of requests. Succombing to the public pressure facilitated through FragDenBundestag, Parliament decided to open their file cabinets. But not only that: The Parliament also changed its publication policy regarding all new reports. In the future, they will be released by the Parliament after a protective period of four weeks.
Just as every other agency, the German Jobcenters are required to submit information when its requested. Nevertheless, they act nontransparent when it comes to the sanctions they impose on their clients. That’s why we launched the campaign AskTheJobcenter (FragDasJobcenter) in October 2016. We wanted to know which internal directives determine their work.
Users of FragDenStaat filed 818 prefourmalted requests in only four weeks. We now know that 548 of the requests were successful. The Jobcenters either published the documents on their own websites or sent them directly to the petitioner. Still 21 percent of the inquiries have been left unanswered. We even had to (successfully) sue one Jobcenter in Berlin because it insisted on demanding a proof of identity for putting the request.
Regardless whether secret services reforms, state trojan or data preservation: usually federal ministries prepare new laws in secret. Therefore, for the public it’s not comprehensible who is involved in the prearrangements and whose interests found their way into the draft law.
The campaign Glass Laws (#GläserneGesetze) picks up the demand of a “legislative footprint” for laws and of a lobby register.
In only one week, the federal ministries received more than 1600 requests for draft laws and lobby-statements. Therefore they decided to publish consultant-drafts and statements from several associations for over 600 laws online.
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