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The Right to Know and Digital Technology: Proactive and Reactive Transparency in the Italian Legal System

Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNISA,volume 11032)


In this paper we take the vantage point of the law as a prism through which to observe the new relation that has taken shape between public sector bodies and the citizenry in view of the knowledge enabled by digital technologies. More to the point, we analyse the right to know vis-à-vis the government and its institutions, assessing the way the changes brought about by technology in the digital space are reshaping digital rights, entrusted with striking a new and complex balance between citizens and the government.

We will specifically address the right to access government data. To this end we will consider the way the law has evolved in Italy, with a focus on Legislative Decree 97/2016 and the deep changes it has made to Legislative Decree 33/2013, providing tools for greater transparency and knowledge of government activity and administration. We highlight the deep transformation that has resulted from these changes, affecting the legal relationship between public sector bodies and citizens.


  • Transparency
  • Right to know
  • Public sector information
  • E-government
  • Open government

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  1. 1.

    The Electronic Freedom of Information Act (e.g. EFOIA) of 1996, which adapted the text to the possibilities offered by new technologies, is particularly relevant.

  2. 2.

    Art. 1(1) of Law 241/1990, as amended by Law No. 15 of 11 February 2005, which places transparency next to the principles requiring that administrative activity be economical, effective, impartial (a criterion that was added in with Law No. 69 of 18 June 2009), and open to public scrutiny.

  3. 3.

    Title V of Law 241/1990 is devoted to the right to access administrative documents.

  4. 4.

    Art. 32 of Law 69/2009.

  5. 5.

    Art. 4(1) of Law 15/2009 and Art. 11(1) of Legislative Decree 150/2009 (the latter was subsequently repealed by Legislative Decree 33/2013). See M. Savino, “Il FOIA italiano: La fine della trasparenza di Bertoldo,” Giornale di diritto amministrativo 5 (2016): 593ff., making the point that “full access was an impossible conceit from the outset, considering that only the information subject to mandatory publication public information was deemed public (accessible online)”.

  6. 6.

    Special sectors include public works, service, and procurement contracts; zoning and urban planning; and the national health service. As much as the Transparency Decree effects an overhaul of transparency obligations, some of these obligations are not addressed in the decree but are set forth in other legislation, both prior and subsequent, a case in point being Arts. 1(2) and 4(2) and (6) of Legislative Decree No. 198 of 20 December 2009, setting forth the public disclosure obligations pertaining to class action lawsuits.

  7. 7.

    Art. 2(2) of Legislative Decree 33/2013.

  8. 8.

    Arts. 2(2) and 9(1) of Legislative Decree 33/2013. The layout required for the transparent administration section is outlined in Annex A.

  9. 9.

    Art. 1(2)(3) of Legislative Decree 33/2013 and Art. 1(36) of Law 190/2012.

  10. 10.

    These tools are contained in particular in Arts. 43ff., Title VI, of the Transparency Decree. Oversight is entrusted to outside agencies and to officials both inside and outside each public sector body, examples being the responsabile per la trasparenza (transparency officer), organismi indipendenti di valutazione (OIV, or independent assessment organisms), and the Autorità Nazionale Anticorruzione (ANAC, or National Anticorruption Authority). Noncompliance is among the elements taken into account in laying nonfeasance charges on civil service executive officers, who may also be held responsible for reputational damage to the agencies they work for, and who, in any event, face the prospect of a pay cut when it comes to assessing their pay-for-performance and their overtime pay (Art. 46); the decree also provides fines for specific cases.

  11. 11.

    See M. Savino, “Il FOIA italiano”, commenting that the civic access tool (accesso civico) has effectively become a dead letter.

  12. 12.

    Especially the Foia4italy initiative (at, which drew the support of more than thirty associations in Italy.

  13. 13.

    Art. 1(1) of Legislative Decree 33/2013.

  14. 14.

    The need to streamline the disclosure procedure emerged as a result of recognizing right to know as a basic right (a topic we will take up in the next section).

  15. 15.

    Arts. 4-bis and 14 of Legislative Decree 33/2013.

  16. 16.

    Arts. 3(1-bis)(1-ter) and 8(3-bis).

  17. 17.

    These aims of Legislative Decree 97/2016 are outlined in the accompanying explanatory document.

  18. 18.

    Art. 9-bis(2) of Legislative Decree 33/2013, introduced by Legislative Decree 97/2016.

  19. 19.

    See the opinion the Italian Consiglio di Stato (an administrative court) issued on the design of what would have become Legislative Decree 97/2016: Opinion No. 00515/2016 of 24 Feb. 2016 (decided at a meeting of 18 Feb. 2016).

  20. 20.

    Art. 6(11), Legislative Decree 97/2016.

  21. 21.

    In the event of a rejection, whether tacit or express, or in the event of administrative delay, applicants have the option of appealing to a regional administrative court or to have the case reviewed by an ombudsman with proper jurisdiction or by the Commissione per l’Accesso ai Documenti Amministrativi (Commission for Access to Administrative Records).

  22. 22.

    Art. 7(1)(h) of Law 124/2015.

  23. 23.

    Art. 2(1) of Legislative Decree 33/2013 (my translation).

  24. 24.

    Art. 5(1–2) of Legislative Decree No. 33/2013. Savino, “Il Foia italiano” (n. 4): “This new right introduces an essential framework that retains previous forms of by which to access government-held data—the procedural form (1990) and the civic form (2013)—even though they are bound to become redundant.”

  25. 25.

    Art. 5(3) of Legislative Decree 33/2013.

  26. 26.

    Access requests are free of charge, but a fee may be charged to cover any costs the administrative agency in question may incur to make copies of the records being sought. Art. 5(3–4) of Legislative Decree 33/2013.

  27. 27.

    Art. 5(6) of Legislative Decree 33/2013.

  28. 28.

    Requesters who are denied access have the option of appealing to a regional administrative court, or they may have the case reviewed by the transparency officer within the agency itself. In cases involving local government entities, they can also settle the matter out of court by recourse to an ombudsman (Art. 5(7–8) of Legislative Decree 33/2013).

  29. 29.

    See, among others, E. Carloni, “Se questo è un FOIA: Il diritto a conoscere tra modelli e tradimenti,” Rassegna Astrid 4 (2016), 9ff., and B. Ponti, Nuova trasparenza amministrativa. For a contrary view, see M. Savino, “Il FOIA italiano”, arguing that “the number and formulation of the legally protected interests specified in the decree are consistent with the prevailing standard. The list of ten public and private interests specified in Article 5-bis looks a lot like the lists found in most FOIAs across Europe, and indeed may even be narrower. It must also be pointed out that the differences between the Italian list and those found in the European Union are or marginal import” (my translation).

  30. 30.

    Art. 5-bis of Legislative Decree 33/2013. These changes took effect on 23 June 2016, after which time public sector bodies and all other entities and officials concerned were given six months to make the adjustments necessary for compliance (Art. 42(1) of Legislative Decree 97/2016).

  31. 31.

    In the previously cited opinion on this legislative decree (at n. 21), the Consiglio di Stato speaks of “reactive disclosure” precisely to describe the disclosure of government data on request. Here we have a shift from the need to know the right to know that in the Italian legal system amounts to a Copernican revolution proper, as a result of which—using a phrase that was much beloved by Filippo Turati—the transparent public sector can really begin to look like a “glass house.”


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Faini, F., Palmirani, M. (2018). The Right to Know and Digital Technology: Proactive and Reactive Transparency in the Italian Legal System. In: Kő, A., Francesconi, E. (eds) Electronic Government and the Information Systems Perspective. EGOVIS 2018. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 11032. Springer, Cham.

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