TI Georgia wins freedom of information case against the Ministry of Interior
Few months ago our organization has requested information on whether citizen D.D. is employed by the Ministry of Interior (MoI) or any of its structure. Transparency International Georgia's inquiry is linked to blackmail of newspaper Batumelebi's journalist and potential actions of abuse of power in the so-called 'photographers' case' by D.D. while he was on official duty. As known, these cases have not been investigated effectively, and thus are of particular interest to our organization.
MoI refused to provide information by alleging that requested information included D.D.'s personal data that the Ministry was obligated to protect.
Our organization has challenged MoI's refusal to issue public information in court. Transparency International Georgia believed the requested information did not qualify as personal data for the purposes of current legislation. Further, high public interest towards D.D., as a former official, should have been taken into consideration.
The 23 March 2015 decision of the Tbilisi City Court has granted the lawsuit of Transparency International Georgia in full and the Ministry of Interior of Georgia was instructed to issue requested information.
The Court has referred to Article 41 of the Constitution of Georgia, as well as the objectives of the Law of Georgia "on the Personal Data Protection", noting: "The Court consents to the Claimant's position that information requested by application N03-2196 relates neither to a person's health nor to his finances. Information on a person's employment in civil service cannot be treated as information related to private matters either. In this case a person is already identified (the Claimant's application referred to the name, surname, date of birth and a personal number), and therefore it is impossible to qualify information on employment in the state institution as information identifying a person. In addition, in order to qualify information as related to private matters, a person must reasonably expect its protection. Employment in civil service cannot be considered as a person's private information, classifying of which a person may reasonably assume.
Given the above, the Court cannot accept the Respondent's explanation that information requested by the Claimant in application N03-2196 qualifies as information containing personal data, because information on identified person's employment in civil service does not fall within definition of 'personal data' as provided under Sub-paragraph 'a' of Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Law of Georgia "on the Personal Data Protection".
Besides, the Court stressed the fact that D.D. is a former official and therefore noted that even if qualifying the requested information as personal information, the respondent administrative agency was obligated to consider issuing information the Claimant had requested.
Transparency International Georgia welcomes the Court decision. We think many organizations experienced problems until now in requesting this type of public information, while this decision serves as precedent for interpreting the 'personal data' definition. We believe such development of case law will warrant more access to public information for interested parties.