Life is beta

by Digital Rights LAC on January 30, 2015


Brazil: the practical reality still places us at an institutional opacity level, far from an ideal transparency situation. This less optimistic reading can be confirmed with numbers, both globally and nationally.

By Paulo Rená Santarém

Government transparency in Brazil: on the right track, but there is still a long way to go

Internationally, Brazil was one of the eight pioneers in the Open Government Partnership, launched in 2011 and which today has 64 members. Nationally, much has changed in the same year since, with Law No. 12,527, Brazil became the 13th country in Latin America and the 91st in the world to adopt a specific standard for ensuring access to information.

However, despite these undeniable diplomatic and legislative results, the practical reality still places us at an institutional opacity level, far from an ideal transparency situation. This less optimistic reading can be confirmed with numbers, both globally and nationally.

Worldwide comparison

On December 9, 2014 the Open Knowledge International Foundation launched the second annual Open Data Global Index ( This year, Brazil fell from the 24th to the 26th position among the 90 analyzed countries, although it has raised its score from 48% to 54%.

In order to put together the Open Data Global Index, a qualitatively analysis is conducted on existence, digital format offer, availability to the public, gratuity, online availability, legibility by machine, mass availability, the opening of the license and data update situation. These nine criteria are measured in nine specific areas: timetables of transport; government budget; government spending; election results; business registrations; national maps; national statistics; legislation; zip codes; pollution emissions.

On one hand, the new score achieved by Brazil ( regarding the situation in 2013 improved considerably in the government budget, with a score of 100% (previously 45%). On the other hand, it deteriorated in zip codes, with a 0% (previously 55%) of transparency in ZIP codes. Still, two strong increases were also recorded in business registrations (from 10% to 45%) and emission of pollutants (from 0% to 35%).

Regarding ranking decreases, the lowest position is due initially to an increase in the number of countries assessed. If in 2013 there were only 60 out of the 30 that made their debut in the 2014 list, the Latin American neighbors, Chile and Uruguay, have entered the list ahead of Brazil, in the 12th and 19th, respectively. But there are other factors. For example, India exceeded us by raising its 46% transparency points to 68% and, therefore, jumped from the 27th to the 10th position.

Internal assessment

As for a domestic comparative perspective, the first concrete results were released in November, in the report “Brazilian State and Transparency: Evaluating the implementation of the Access to Information Act“. The document was produced by the Transparency Audit Network, an initiative maintained by Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with Birkbeck Research Center, at University of London, and supported by the Open Society Foundations.

The research sought to measure response rates, accuracy rate and medium term by sending 717 information access requests, joined in two blocks. First, in a general assessment, 173 different members of the public administration: 133 bodies of the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, their respective capitals, the Federal District and the Union. Second, in the evaluation of the Judiciary, 40 courts were analyzed, including the Supreme Court, the Superior Court of Justice, the Superior Labor Court, 5 Federal Regional Courts, 5 Regional Labor Courts and 27 Courts of Justice of each State and the District Federal and Territories.

It was found that, on average, not only one in every three requests has been completely ignored, but the accuracy of responses that effectively meet the demand, were only 57% of the claims answered in general, 26% especially for the Judiciary. The report highlights that some bodies and courts were particularly below the average (Municipality of Rio de Janeiro with 23%), indicating a large discrepancy in the adoption of state transparency. The findings also reveal signs that there is discrimination in the processing of applications due to the existence or not of an institutional link of the applicant: FGV researchers took an average of 17.5 days to get their answers, 25.5 days for non-institutional profiles.

The findings are even more serious in the assessment of institutional challenges that harm the effective implementation of the Access to Information Act. In the absence of regulations to clearly illegal standards, the report provides a series of recommendations, while identifying new research directions, such as investigations with other entities and the very formulation of more information requests by civil society.

The democratic value of open data

At this stage of the opening of access to information in Brazil, much can be learned from the experiences of other countries. We can start by looking in detail at what the United Kingdom, first place in the Global Index, did as well as our best-ranked neighbors. Even simpler, we can promote the plans developed by the municipalities, states and public agencies in general, in order to retrace a path toward meeting the quality of public data requirements.

In any case, the most important step may be a greater involvement of civil society in the use of information requests. From newspapers that seek to conduct thorough investigations to individuals who want to know details of their private interest, including countless private organizations that deal with specific guidelines: many people, individuals and companies, remain unaware of the democratic value nor have seized upon such tools as the information request and general access.

The importance has at least one double-side. On one hand, the control over government leaders allows us to evaluate the fulfillment of campaign promises. With the new cycle of government mandates that start in 2015, knowing in actual figures how much has been spent on each item is one of many ways in which the trail of transparency allows more accountability before those governed. Along the same lines, the exercise of access to information may be necessary to consider whether the State has not itself violated other fundamental guarantees, such as privacy, the inviolability of communications secrecy, service to the rights of children and adolescents, reasonable agility of trials and respect to the minimum dignity of inmates.

On the other hand, the opening of data can give rise to an intensification in popular participation according to their own definitions of government goals. From a scenario mapped in their real environment, social demands can condense with more reference in reality and impose greater pressure on the definition of government priorities. Before the plural range of possible population’s needs, knowing which daily issues have been more or less met can serve as a guide for the effective operation of government in meeting the common good.

Brazil is not in the most comfortable position regarding transparency, but many of the initial difficulties have been overcome. We now need to take a second step as a nation toward the implementation of open public data.