The Freedom of Information Law states that every citizen and resident has the right to appeal to any public authority to which the law applies (such as a government ministry or a municipality) and to request information. “Information” means any information of a public authority which is written down, recorded, videoed, photographed or computerized. The applicant does not have to explain why he is requesting the information.
It should be noted that the provisions of this law also apply to a petitioner who wants to know his rights in Israel even though he is not an Israeli citizen or resident.
The general idea of the law is that the authority is obligated to provide information to the citizens. The law also determines that there are exceptions to the rule, such as information that is liable to infringe on state security or a person’s privacy. In this case, the authority must explain and put down in writing the reason for its refusal.
The law also requires the public authority to publish its administrative directives as well as an annual report once a year.
The State Comptroller's Report examined the level of government ministries’ transparency within the framework of the Freedom of Information Law, based on how ministers responded to freedom of information requests from citizens and non-profit organizations. The Freedom of Information Unit defined six government ministries as “violating authorities” since they did not respond to freedom of information requests privately submitted to them even after the Freedom of Information Unit demanded that they do so.
The ministries defined as "violating authorities" included the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The State Comptroller particularly critiqued the Ministry of Environmental Protection “for not responding to certain requests for information from the public for years. This conduct may hinder the public's right to receive information from a public authority to the point of violating the Freedom of Information Act.” The comptroller wrote about the Finance Ministry, that it "sometimes drags it feet on requests for information, and sometimes does not answer at all."
The Freedom of Information Act, enacted in 1998, is of great importance to proper administration, and it obligates all state authorities to provide the public with information on their conduct, implementation of laws, policies and shortcomings. The fact that some of the ministries do not obey the language of the law is wrongful conduct that harms the right of the public to know what is being done by the public’s representatives in particular and in government offices in general.
Zev Zer, the chairman of Israeli Shortcut organization, states that this improper behavior is not new to him, since the organization has frequently requested information from various government offices under the Freedom of Information Act, requests that were often ignored by government ministries and authorities. The inability to get information stymies the organization from suggesting a change in procedures to help petitioners.
He says, “Our organization has often been forced by government ministries’ ineptitude to turn to the Government Freedom of Information Unit in the Ministry of Justice, which has been authorized to investigate complaints against government ministries including the failure to provide a timely response to a Freedom of Information Act request.”