An assessment of online public transparency platforms in Brazil

by Digital Rights LAC on July 30, 2014

nosso artigo

By, Marina Barros e Rafael Velasco

This May, the Access to Information Act (Law nº 12.527/2011) celebrated two years in force. A study was carried out between April and June by the FGV Center for Transparency, an initiative coordinated by Getulio Vargas Foundation’s Administration (EBAPE) and Law Schools (FGV Direito Rio) in Rio de Janeiro, with financial support from the Open Society Foundation (OSF); aiming to evaluate how well several Brazilian government agencies had complied with the Law. In order to achieve this, around 500 access to information requests were sent to federal, state and local agencies of the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches. The study aimed at measuring said public agencies’ ability to properly respond to requests for access to information, as well as to determine the existence and quality of online platforms through which requests for information can be sent.

Preliminary results indicate that there is still great resistance by some state agencies to provide information to citizens. The study identified two main barriers faced by citizens who are trying to obtain public information, through the Access to Information Act: one legal and the other technological.

The first is the government agencies’ use of arguments to deny access to the requested information which are entirely unsupported by the Access to Information Act. Clear examples of this are requests for access to information which were denied as a result of a lack of recognition of the Internet as a legitimate means for citizens to submit information requests.

The State of Rio de Janeiro in particular, based on State Decree nº 43.597/2012, requires requests to be filed in person. This requirement directly the Access to Information Act, which determines that requests may be filed by any legitimate means, and establishes a policy of using “means of communication, made available by information technology.”

Meanwhile, even for those bodies that accept requests for access to information though electronic channels, the study identified a second barrier faced by the citizen: the inadequacy of some digital platforms designed to receive requests for access to information or even the lack of such platforms. After evaluating all the channels used by the audited bodies, clear differences were identified regarding the quality and ease of access.

The platform adopted by the Federal Government – Access to Electronic Information System or e-Sic – is the biggest success found in the studied government agencies. After a relatively simple registration¹, the citizen can not only file requests for access to information, but also find a a record of all previously sent requests. Furthermore, the e-Sic sends automatic notifications of incoming requests, deadlines and also allows the citizen to appeal, just one click away, if they do not agree with the response to their request. However, other bodies did not incorporate the e-Sic’s features, making access more difficult for citizens, as can be seen when looking at the platform adopted by the Audit Court of the State of Minas Gerais, which did not adopt the mechanism that enables an appeal after receiving a response.

The study revealed that only 62% of the 500 requests were sent through specific platforms for information access. It was also noted that many bodies do not have such platforms, which forces the submission of requests to be made through their ombudsman or a “Contact Us” mechanism, or even using an email address available on their website. As an example, it is important to emphasize that bodies of great relevance on a national scale have not adopted transparency platforms; such as the Court of Appeals of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the State Public Prosecution Office of São Paulo, the Federal Public Prosecution Office and the Brazilian Federal Audit Court.

The study showed that the number of requests responded compared to the number of requests submitted varies considerably according to the channel that was used: the platforms designed specifically to handle requests which were based on the Access to Information Act responded to 69% of these requests, whereas only 44% of requests received through the ombudsman and 37% of those received through the “Contact Us” channel were responded. Another point discussed by the study was the relevance² of responses. Requests sent through platforms in accordance with the AIA were shown to obtain 86% of relevant responses, while only 76% of responses to requests filed through the ombudsman and the “Contact Us” channel were deemed relevant.

These results indicate that agencies that implemented systems in accordance with the AIA are more likely to provide a suitable response to citizens.


Despite being in force for only two years, Brazilian Access to Information Act needs to be improved in order to ensure its full effectiveness in different Brazilian public bodies. Such improvement necessarily entails creating appropriate platforms through which to receive requests from citizens, as well as improving existing platforms.

The early conclusion can be reached that, since the AIA was passed two years ago, public administration has shown uneven progress regarding the adaptation and adjustment of structures which contribute towards assuring access to public information. While some agencies make progress in developing transparency mechanisms, using available technologies and adapting their systems for providing relevant information to citizens, others are moving very slowly. The development of a ‘culture of transparency’ in Brazil necessarily involves the creation of suitable platforms to receive requests for access to information by agencies that have not yet done so, and the improvement of existing platforms.

The two-year anniversary of the AIA is the appropriate moment to identify problems and find new paths for assuring effective government transparency.

Marina Barros and Rafael Velasco are researchers at the FGV Center of Transparency in Rio de Janeiro.

¹In April, 2014, in the 10th edition of this newsletter, Gregory Michener argued that mandatory self-identification violates the individual’s freedom of information, and that reforms to the Access to Information Act are also necessary to guarantee the right of access to information.
²The responses were classified according to their level of importance as “relevant” – questions are responded with relevant information – “moderately relevant” – not all questions are responded or they are responded with a smaller degree of relevance – and “not relevant” – questions are not responded or the answers were not relevant.