European freedom of information requirements not only included files that are on paper or digital, or emails. Interpersonal communications such as SMS, Twitter direct messages and chats via messengers such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Threema and Signal also fall under the 2001 EU regulation "on public access to documents of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission".
"Reality of modern communications"
This was the decision of EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly in response to a complaint from FragDenStaat, as the creators of the transparency portal announced on Monday. Accordingly, the EU bodies and subordinate institutions must in the future also record such direct communication, mostly exchanged via smartphone, store it and make it accessible upon request.
The European law on information refers to "Content independent of the form of the data carrier" and thus clearly includes SMS and direct messaging, O’Reilly stated. The EU institutions had to "make the best possible efforts to reflect the reality of modern communication" and the increasing use of instant messaging, for example "in their rules and practices of documentation management".
Government via smartphone is everyday life
FragDenStaat had previously filed a freedom of information request on messages exchanged by former EU Council President Donald Tusk with heads of state and government of member states. The Council of Ministers rejected the request, saying it did not have in its possession any SMS or direct messages containing "substantial information" . It had previously been reported that a text message from Tusk in 2015 was even said to have decided negotiations on a bailout package for Greece.
Government by smartphone has long been part of everyday life. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (both CDU) are not the only ones known for using direct messaging and text messages to communicate with staff and colleagues. Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soder (CSU) is also said to start his workdays with several text messages to his staff, ending them with the succinct statement "Gumo!" initiate. Various work orders usually follow.
Ministry does not accept decision
The decision fits with the ruling of the Administrative Court of Berlin, according to which authorities in this country must also release Twitter direct messages under the Freedom of Information Act (IFG) of the federal government. Here FragDenStaat had sued the Federal Ministry of the Interior and got right in May.
According to the activists, however, the Interior Ministry does not accept this decision and has applied for an appeal to the Federal Administrative Court. The court is expected to rule next year on the fundamental ie of transparency in direct communication with the authorities. Until then, a parallel lawsuit by FragDenStaat for access to e-mails of Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer (CSU) is pending.