It should be noted that, until recently, none of legislative acts detailed the issue of what should be the procedure for submitting information about the activities of bodies of state authority, and how extensive this information should be. As a result, the various agencies, regions and bodies of local selfgovernment had been practicing different approaches to the structure, and there was no uniformity in the level of comprehensiveness of the information resources being used. Some department and regions (for example, St. Petersburg, Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug, and the Republic of Tatarstan) provided the most detailed information possible concerning their activities, and their official websites repeatedly scored victories at the contests periodically organized for state information resources.As other departments and subjects of the Russian Federation handled the issue of making information available to citizens much more formally, the volume of “open” information they released was extremely small. Thus, so far as the federal level is concerned, in 2008 the least volume of information about their activities was released by Rosgranitsa (the Federal Agency for the Development of the State Border), Rosoboronpostavka (the Federal Defense Supply Agency), the State Committee on Youth Issues, the External Intelligence Service, Rostransnadzor (the Federal Transport Supervision Service), Rosselkhoznadzor (the Federal Service for Sanitary and Phytosanitary Supervision), and Rosenergo (the Federal Energy Agency).As a result, despite the fact that at present nearly 100 percent of departments have their own websites, the volume of “open” information does not exceed, on the whole, 30 percent of its total volume.
Such was the data for the year 2008, stated by the St. Petersburg Institute for Information Freedom Development36, which had been monitoring, since 2004, the degree of openness of the official webites of bodies of state authority. In the process of monitoring, the Institute also estimates such indicators as general information concerning one or other state body; information concerning the information resources and the activities of one or other state body in the sphere of its basic competence; legislation and norm - creating activities; the procedure for the activities carried out by one or other state body in the sphere of protecting the rights, freedoms and legal interests of citizens; information concerning state purchases; information concerning state service and budget funding, etc. According to the Institutes estimates for the year 2008, the openness level of the official websites of the federal bodies of state authority amounted to 26.85 percent, while the openness level of the regional information resources of the executive authorities amounted to 33.62 percent. In particular, the Institute has considered that the most heavily classified was information concerning the state purchases carried out by some departments; information concerning their spending of budget funds; and information concerning the vacancies existing in the budget-funded sphere..
These indicators should be considered to be insufficient for forming an adequate system of electronic interaction between the State and its citizens - or even for an efficient interdepartmental cooperation between bodies of state authority. In particular, RF President D. A. Medvedev noted in his speech at the first meeting of the Council for Information Society Development in Russia37 that See, for example, http://admhmao.ru/committe/Admin/kom_inf/index.htm See //www.svobodainfo.org/info/page/ See http://www.svobodainfo.org/info/page/ See, for example, http://www.allmedia.ru/ Rossiiskii delovoi portal (the Russian Business Portal);
http://www.rambler.ru/news/it/medvedev/564187920.html; http://www.rbcdaily.ru/, etc.
the concept of “electronic government” is still far from its actual realization;
the quality of state information resource is still extremely low;
practically all internal documents are still being circulated on paper – it holds true of both inter- and intradepartmental document turnover;
with rare exceptions, it is simply not possible for citizens to send in an electronic application to a body of state authority, or to electronically trace its movement in an office.
It should be added that the databases belonging to various bodies of state authority are still very weakly integrated, which creates serious difficulties for interdepartmental cooperation. For example, the tax authorities still lack the following means:
an on-line database of lost passports available to them at any time (this database is kept by law enforcement agencies who periodically send extracts to tax inspectorates);
full volume of information on customs declarations (this information is in the hands of the Federal Tax Service, which provides it on the basis of an application);
an on-line data base for citizens – taxpayers (this information is kept by the civil registry authorities who provide it with a certain periodicity);
a number of other categories of information, submitted to the tax authorities by way of interdepartmental cooperation.
Because of the constant lack of “fresh” information, tax inspectorates are prone to such wide-spread mistakes as registration of juridical persons on the basis of fraudulently acquired passports, or charging land tax to long–deceased persons, etc.
It is expected that the new Federal Law adopted in February 2009, “On Access to Information about the Activities of State Bodies and Local Self-Government Bodies”, of 09 February 2009, No 8-FZ, will help to resolve all the above-listed problems.
This law contains a number of definitions of the term “information about the activities of bodies of state authority”, which include any information resources created by bodies of state authority (or local administrations) or passed into their hands38; “the official website of a body of state authority or local administration”39; an “appeal” submitted to authorities40, etc. In particular, electronic appeals submitted by organizations and citizens are equated to official appeals submitted thereby.
Also, Law N 8-FZ determines the forms of informing juridical persons and the population about the activities of state bodies. In accordance with Article 6 of the Law, informing “can be” carried out in the following ways:
by publication (promulgation) in mass media, by state bodies and local self-government bodies, of information about their activities;
by posting on the Internet network, by bodies of state authority or local self-government, of information about their activities;
by placement, by bodies of state authority or local self-government, of information about their activities, in the premises occupied by the said bodies or in other places intended for these purposes;
Information about the activities of bodies of state authority and local self-government is to be understood as information (including documented) created within the scope of their competence by state bodies, their territorial bodies, bodies of local self-government, or by the organizations subordinated to state bodies (hereinafter: the subordinated organizations), or received by the said bodies and organizations. Information about the activities of bodies of state authority and local self-government also includes laws and other normative acts, while information about the activities of bodies of local self-government includes municipal legal acts establishing the structure, the powers, and the procedure for the formation and activities of the said bodies, and any other information concerning their activities.
The official website of a body of state authority or local self-government (hereinafter: the official website) is a site in the Internet information telecommunication network (hereinafter: the Internet network), containing information about the activities of a state body or a local self-government body, whose electronic address includes the domain name, the right to which belongs to the body of state authority or the body of local self-government.
An appeal is to be understood as the request by a user of information, made orally or in written form, including in electronic form, submitted to a body of state authority or a body of local self-government, or to an official thereof, for information about the activities of this body.
by introducing users to information about the activities of bodies of state authority or local selfgovernment in the premises occupied by the said bodies, and also via library and archival funds;
by citizens (physical persons), including representatives of organizations (juridical persons), of public associations, or of bodies of state authority or local self-government, being present at meetings of state collegiate bodies and local self-government collegiate bodies;
by providing information about the activities of bodies of state authority or local selfgovernment to users of information in response to their appeals;
by other methods envisaged by laws and (or) other normative legal acts and, so far as access to information about the activities of bodies of local self-government is concerned, also by municipal legal acts.
On the one hand, this Article can be interpreted as not obligating a body of state authority or a local administration to post the full amount of information about its activities on its official website (because informing merely can be but not necessarily must be carried out in this form). On the other hand, the Article can be interpreted as equating the posting of information on the official website of a body of state authority to its official publication. In this connection, it is noteworthy that the norms stipulated in the new law do not extend to events of publishing normative legal acts, which, as previously, must be published in the procedure established by Federal Law, of 14 June 1994, No 5-FZ, “On the Procedure for Publishing and Coming into Force of Federal Constitutional Laws, Federal Laws, and Acts of the Chambers of the Federal Assembly”, and also by other acts (see Article 12 of Federal Law, of 09 February 2009, No 8-FZ “On Access to Information about the Activities of State Bodies and Local Self-Government Bodies”).
It is interesting that, while generally guaranteeing the right of citizens and organizations to have access to information about the activities of bodies of state authority, the new law actually restricts their possibilities to receive phone consultations and explanations. Moreover, the Law envisages the possibility of their questions being answered for a fee..
Previously, bodies of state authority and bodies of local self-government were obliged to give answers to citizens questions and appeals submitted to them, including by phone.41 Now the situation has changed. Article 7 of Federal Law of 9 February 2009, No 8-FZ, indicates that information is provided orally only “during a reception”, and that the only information one could get by phone would be referential at best (see Item 3 of Article 7 of the Federal Law of 9 February 2009).
In our opinion, the issue of exacting pay for answering appeals lacks clarity. Article 22 of the new Law indicates that pay for rendering information in response to an appeal should be exacted if the amount of the required and obtained information exceeds “the volume of information to be rendered free of charge, which has been established by the Government of the Russian Federation”. It remains absolutely unclear how a person asking for information would be able to influence the volume of information rendered to him or her, and correspondingly, to influence the volume of pay being charged.
For example, if an organization or a citizen requires official explanations with regard to one or other issue, their volume and comprehensiveness will entirely depend on an official who renders them.
Special attention should be paid to the fact that the list of „free of charge information (included directly into Article 21 of the new Law) contains only reference information – which, as a rule, is always available from open sources. Thus, the following types of information are to be granted free of charge:
posted by a state body or a body of local self-government on the Internet, or placed at special locations assigned for making public the information concerning the activity of state bodies and bodies of local self-government;
bearing upon the rights and responsibilities, as established by legislation of the Russian Federation, of a user of information;
other information on the activity of state bodies and bodies of local self-government - as established by the Law, or other information on the activity of bodies of local self-government - as established by municipal legal acts.
See, for example, Order of the Federal Tax Service, of 15 February 2007, No SAE-3-18/62@, “On the Approval of the Regulations of the Federal Tax Service”.
Thus, it can be assumed that, from now on, any requests requiring „explanations in terms of „content, for example letters of the RF Ministry of Finance or explanations issued by the Federal Tax Service and Federal Customs Service of the RF in response to taxpayer requests may be provided for a fee (if taxpayers do not prove, in a judicial procedure, that such explanations indeed fall within that vague category of „information that has bearing on their rights). These norms also lay a legal foundation for the transfer of any detailed statistical data which are not available from the official website of a local body of state authority into the category of information to be provided on a commercial basis. The feasibility of such information being provided for a fee – given that it has been collected at the expense of taxpayers, who thus have once already paid for it – appears to be rather doubtful.
Besides, there still remains certain lack of clarity in regard of the issue as to how the revenues received by bodies of state authority or bodies of local self-government from providing relevant information requested by organizations and citizens should be reflected in their budgets and made use of.