*Per Marcelo Batista Nery
The celebration of International Access to Information Day, which takes place next Thursday, September 28th, takes on a prominent role in the calendar by highlighting the importance of accessibility to knowledge as a manifestation of freedom and an instrument for participation in public, private, media, academic and community spheres. Established in 2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), this date seeks to raise awareness among the population about the fact that access to information is an inalienable right of each individual and a fundamental element for the promotion of spaces for dialogue and the effectiveness of governance practices. However, in Brazil, things don't work as expected (whether outside the country or not), and I can demonstrate that.
It is interesting to note that, in the Brazilian context, a significant milestone for the disclosure of data at the initiative of the public sector occurred years earlier, in 2011, when the Federal Senate approved the project that culminated in the promulgation of the Access to Information Law (LAI). This law (nº 12,527) complies with a constitutional mandate that guarantees citizens the right to obtain information of personal or collective interest from public bodies. The LAI is based on the principle of publicity, which establishes disclosure as a general rule and restricts secrecy to exceptional situations.
The prerogative to provide information was shared by all public powers and bodies, at all administrative levels. However, it is important to remember that, initially, the Executives of the Union, States, Federal District and Municipalities regulated the matter through decrees and administrative measures, which, in some instances, resulted in delays and hindered the obtaining of information. This panorama was observed recurrently in different states of the country and is still something that can be noticed.
The LAI encompasses all Direct and Indirect Administration, also incorporating municipal entities. As an example, in the city of São Paulo, Decree No. 53,623, dated December 12, 2012, establishes the regulation of the LAI within the scope of the Executive Branch. In Article 2, municipal bodies and entities undertake to guarantee the right of access to information, through the implementation of agile and objective procedures, conveyed in a transparent, clear manner and in easy-to-understand language; and in Article 3, the importance of adherence to publicity as a primary precept and secrecy as an exception is highlighted.
After five years, that is, at a time when both LAI and International Access to Information Day should already be well established, I began to outline a project. This project aimed to carry out a comparative study of data related to homicides, using two distinct sources of information: the Municipal Health Secretariat (SMS) and the Public Security Secretariat (SSP), both referring to the city of São Paulo.
In summary: At the end of 2018, based on a preliminary analysis of the Brasil platform, an electronic system used in the country for the management and analysis of research projects involving human beings as participants, minimal risks were observed for said project, since data collection did not include personally identifiable information. In 2019, the project obtained all necessary approvals, supported by well-founded expert opinions. In 2020, I received the SMS institutional consent letter, signed by its coordinator, endorsing the favorable statement issued by the SMS Research Ethics Committee itself.
However, as Vinicius de Moraes said in “Testamento” (from the album “1971”), “the hole is further down”. Despite the humor of this expression, it illustrates the complexity underlying many processes involved in accessing information. After three years from the project's conception to obtaining all the necessary approvals for its implementation (and with the SSP data in hand), the necessary information was not made available, due to little-explained resistance on the part of some technicians. from SMS – I highlight the word “some”, as I participated in meetings in which many technicians were in favor of transferring the data.
My team and I were never able to access the requested data. However, some time later, it came to my attention that other people, with equivalent projects, had more success. This impasse and disparity reveal a complex dilemma that involves both technical and operational factors as well as personal issues and controversies linked to work, which can represent examples of obstacles to access to information. This highlights the importance of examining the procedures for obtaining data, considering the regulatory aspects and internal dynamics of the institutions involved.
At the current moment, when the understanding of the importance of offering services (especially information) to citizens and of streamlining government processes in a responsive and integrated way (aiming at transparency, legitimacy and citizenship) is expanding, the harmonization between institutional control and Individual autonomy is crucial to promoting the public good. This harmonization can be achieved through explicit guidelines, effective supervision, impartial evaluation mechanisms and incentives that encourage the use of technologies, especially IT and knowledge.
A deeper analysis of how information is accessed in the public context reveals the complexity of the problems. The intersection of bureaucratic and interpersonal factors demonstrates that the search for information has so far been a dynamic and challenging process. However, achieving a balance between these factors (also considering technical and pseudo-social aspects) is crucial for democracy and political decision-making. At the cost of implementing objective guidelines, effective supervision, respect for hierarchy and appropriate processes, it becomes possible to create an environment in which public information is effectively available, generating intellectual convergence, as well as the advancement of a public policy agenda and the support for innovation.
*Marcelo Batista Nery is a researcher at think tank from ABES, coordinator of Technology Transfer and Head of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center (BRA-61) of the Center for Violence Studies at the University of São Paulo
Notice: The opinion presented in this article is the responsibility of its author and not of ABES - Brazilian Association of Software Companies