EU Ombudsman urged to review European Commission’s insistence on postal addresses to register requests for documents

Madrid, 13 October 2014 – Access Info Europe is challenging the European Commission’s policy of demanding postal addresses as a precondition for registering requests for access to EU documents as part of a complaint being considered by the European Ombudsman.

Access Info Europe argues that Commission’s policy, adopted on 1 April 2014, of refusing to register requests without postal address interferes unnecessarily and disproportionately with citizens’ ability to exercise their right of access to documents and is in breach of Regulation 1049/2001.

The issue of addresses was raised by the Commission as part of an exchange of views regarding the Commission’s refusal to register a request from an Access Info Europe intern because she did not give her surname, country, and “activity sector”, even though she stated that she was working for Access Info Europe, a legal entity based in the European Union working on human rights issues; she also stated she was a Swedish resident of Polish citizenship. The Commission nevertheless refused to register the request and Access Info Europe submitted its complaint to the European Ombudsman on 10 April 2014.

The Commission argues, in a letter dated 24 July 2014, that postal addresses are essential because the Commission needs to be sure of the date of delivery of responses, so that it can direct its scarce resources only to “real” requesters, and for applying EU data protection rules. A copy of the Commission’s letter is here .

In a response sent on 30 September 2014, Access Info Europe urges the Ombudsman to look into both the original refusal and the postal address requirement.

“We believe that any request for documents sent by email should be processed and answered by email,” stated Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.

Access Info Europe points out in its submission to the Ombudsman that there exist various electronic solutions to ensuring delivery of responses, such as the “Eudralink” software used by the European Medicines Agency.

Instead of exploring options more appropriate to the information age, the Commission has chosen to address the issue in a manner which puts barriers in the way of citizens wishing to access EU information,” added Darbishire.

Access Info Europe points out that the Commission’s own rules require it to treat requesters from inside and outside the EU equally.

The response by Access Info Europe also questions the Commission’s assertion that the postal address is strictly necessary on grounds of personal data protection when request comes from requesters living outside the EU (be they EU citizens or others).

“The solution is simple: Register requests without the check of a postal address, and then, when the information is released to the requester, inform that person, clearly and precisely, of his or her obligations under EU data protection laws,” explained Pam Bartlett Quintanilla, EU Campaigner, Access Info Europe.

Original complaint: file_pdf

Commission response: file_pdf

Access Info’s comments on the Commission’s response: file_pdf

For more information, please contact:

Helen Darbishire | Access Info Europe
helen@access-info.org
+34 667 685 319

Pam Bartlett Quintanilla | Access Info Europe
pam@access-info.org
+34 913 656 558

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