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HaMoked to the Magistrates' Court: the fee demanded by the Ministry of Interior for handling application under the Freedom of Information Law is four times the fee stipulated by law

The right to obtain information from public authorities in Israel has been enacted in the Freedom of Information Law, which allows every Israeli citizen or resident to submit to a public authority a request for information concerning its activities. Under the Law, the Ministry of Justice is responsible for setting fees charged for processing such requests, and they are published in the Law's fee regulations. The fees are set so as not to hinder the general public from exercising its right to access information.

On March 13, 2012, HaMoked submitted to the Ministry of Interior a request for data under the Freedom of Information Law concerning family unification applications filed by East Jerusalem residents – the number of applications filed, approved, rejected, and so on. Six weeks later, the interior ministry notified that the production of the data would require 11 hours of work; therefore the service would cost ILS 2,046 including VAT.

According to the fees set by law, the cost of handling an application under the Freedom of Information Law stands at ILS 53 per hour, starting from the third hour onward. Accordingly, 11 person hours should cost only ILS 477. HaMoked requested the interior ministry to explain the exorbitant fee.

The interior ministry's response revealed that the Population Immigration and Border Authority had outsourced all of its data processing services to a private firm, which had set its own fees for producing the information requested. In its response, the interior ministry also updated the fee it was charging. HaMoked was now informed that the production of the information would require some 15 hours of work, setting the preparation cost at ILS 3,250. In effect, the interior ministry was seeking to charge ILS 216 per handling hour – more than four times the fee set in regulation.

In its response to the interior ministry, HaMoked asserted that the ministry was not authorized to charge a fee which exceeds those set in the Freedom of Information Regulations, and requested to receive a new payment demand claculated according to the legally set fees. HaMoked also requested that the interior ministry explain the its estimation that 15 person hours would be necessary for producing the information. On September 2, 2012, in the absence of response from the interior ministry, HaMoked filed an appeal to Magistrates' Court against the interior ministry's decision to charge an exorbitant handling fee.

HaMoked claimed that the interior ministry's decision to outsource its databases' management cannot serve as a justification for the state relieving itself of its obligations under the Freedom of Information Law, and neither can it result in a private firm setting its own price on a basic citizen's right. HaMoked further claimed that by omitting to explain the 15 hours of work quoted for handling the request, the interior ministry was breaching its obligation to give reasoning, incumbent upon any administrative authority.

In response to the appeal, the interior ministry retracted it initial position and agreed to charge payment according to the handling fee stipulated in the Freedom of Information Regulations. It also altered the quoted hours from 15 to 14.

On October 31, 2012, with HaMoked's consent, the court struck out the petition. (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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