The limited scope of exemption

Limitted scope of exemptions
Last update: December 6, 2021
Key findings
Among the participants to the survey,
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81% (83)
reported that their respective ATI legal guarantee

explicitly mentions permissible exemptions

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More than 84%
mentioned Privacy as a permissible exemptions

Exemptions allow the withholding of certain categories of information. Standards for exemptions mean that any such withholding must be based on narrow, proportionate, necessary and clearly defined limitations. Exemptions should apply only where there is a risk of substantial harm to a protected interest (as per the list in the figure below), and where the harm is greater than the overall public interest  in having access to the information. These exemptions are sometimes cited in relation to requests for information, and also for refusals in relation to declined initial requests.

Out of the 91 responding countries and territories with ATI guarantees, 81% (83) reported that their respective ATI legal guarantee explicitly mentions permissible exemptions that are elaborated in well-defined categories whereby requests for information may be legally denied. The figure below shows the proportion of permissible exemptions in ATI legal guarantees, as indicated by the respondents.

Permissible exemptions in ATI legal guarantees
Permissible exemptions in ATI legal guarantees

Going further, ATI oversight institutions in 24 out of 40 countries and territories reported data on ‘ATI requests’ in 2020 reported that they kept disaggregated data on the reasons for non-disclosure and partial disclosure on the basis of the legitimate exemptions. As it relates to data on ‘Appeals’ in 2020, 29 out of 51 respondents reported to do so.

Countries that keep disaggregated data for non-disclosure (ATI Requests)
Countries that keep disaggregated data for non-disclosure and partial disclosure on the basis of the permissible exemptions in 2020 (ATI Requests)
Countries that keep disaggregated data for non-disclosure (Appeals)
Countries that keep disaggregated data for non-disclosure and partial disclosure on the basis of the permissible exemptions in 2020 (Appeals)