History repeats itself, but this time in Belgium

Over in Brussels, Freedom of Information website Transparencia.be has just overcome a hurdle very similar to one faced by WhatDoTheyKnow in its earlier days.

Several municipalities had delayed on processing FOI requests sent through Transparencia.be — which runs on our Alaveteli software — concerned that a request sent via email does not contain a signature or proof of identity.

Now Belgium’s overseeing body CADA (the Commission of Access to Administrative Documents) has ruled, just as the ICO did in the UK, that requests sent through the site should be treated the same as those received via more conventional means.

You can read about the matter on the website of the public broadcasting organisation RTBF in French, or via Google Translate in English.

The struggle echoes almost exactly the experiences we faced with WhatDoTheyKnow when it was first launched: as you can see in this FAQ, official MoJ guidance now explicitly states that an email address should be considered of equal status to a physical return address; and ICO advice is that a WhatDoTheyKnow.com email address is a valid contact address for the purposes of FOI.

A sharing community

Here at mySociety, we share our open source software so that other people can run services like ours — Freedom of Information sites, parliamentary monitoring projects or fault-reporting platforms — for their own countries.

But it’s not only about the software. Something that has become clear over the years, and especially when we get together for an event such as AlaveteliCon, is that we all face similar challenges. No matter how different our countries’ legislations, cultures or politics, you can be sure that our setbacks and triumphs will be familiar to others.

Because of that, we’re able to share something that’s just as useful as the software itself: the support of the community. In this case, that’s easily accessed via the Alaveteli mailing list, which we’d encourage you to join if you run, or are thinking of running, an FOI site.

Image: Jay Lee


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