Act on the Openness of Government Activities


Which documents are governed by the Act?

Public authorities whose documents are governed by the Act on the Openness of Government Activities include, for example

  • state administrative authorities and other government agencies and public bodies
  • courts of law, and
  • municipal authorities.

The Act also applies to state-owned enterprises, such as Metsähallitus. In addition, the Act applies to documents of private parties  performing public duties when they exercise public powers. 
These include, for example

  • earnings-related pension providers,
  • hunting wardens, and
  • insurance companies in matters related to statutory insurances.

The Act applies to both documents delivered to a public authority and those prepared by a public authority. Documents delivered to a public authority include, for example, different letters and applications.  Documents prepared by a public authority, on the other hand, include decisions and statements, for example. Certain documents of minor significance relating to the internal activities of an authority are excluded from the scope of application of the Act.

In addition to traditional documents on paper, document also means electronic documents and messages stored by means of automatic data processing.

Requesting access to a document

Public authorities assist in finding information

The public authority in whose possession an official document is usually decides whether access to the document is granted. Authorities are obliged to assist those requesting information in finding it, for example in identifying the document sought after. The register of the authority in question and other directories can be used in the identification.

The person requesting access to a document does not need to reveal their identity or provide reasons for their request. When considering whether to grant access to a non-disclosable document or to the personal data of another person, authorities may, however, require information on the grounds for the request. For example, a party to a matter has the right of access to certain non-disclosable documents. Access to non-disclosable documents may also be granted for research purposes.

Access to a document must usually be granted in the manner requested, unless this would cause undue inconvenience to the activities of the authority. Most often, information is provided orally, as a copy of the document concerned, or in electronic format.

Authorities must process a request for access to a document without delay. Access to a document must be granted as soon as possible and in any event within one month from the receipt of the request. If the number of documents requested is large or if the request otherwise requires a higher than average amount of work from the authority, access must be granted within two months from the receipt of the request.

What if the decision is negative?

A decision refusing access to a document must state reasons for the refusal. In other words, the decision must mention the grounds for refusing access to the document or the reasons for the non-disclosure of the document requested. If the request has been made in writing, the negative decision must also be issued in writing.

If access to a document has been refused, the person may request that the public official refer the matter to an authority for a decision.

A review of a decision taken by an authority may be requested from an administrative court. The instructions for requesting a judicial review are appended to the decision.

Which fees are charged?

Obtaining access to an official document is free of charge where the information is given orally or the document is provided for reading at the premises of the authority or sent by email, for example. However, a fee may be charged if retrieving or processing a document incurs special costs.

The authority may also charge a fee, corresponding to the costs incurred, for providing copies and printouts of a document.

Right of access to information

Publicity is the starting point

Under the Act on the Openness of Government Activities, official documents are, as a rule, public, and non-disclosure of an official document is an exception. Thus, access to an official document must not be restricted without a lawful reason or more than what is necessary for the interest being protected.

Party's right of access to information is broader than usual

A party, in other words a person who has a right, interest or obligation affected by the matter, has the right of access to the official documents that may influence or may have influenced the consideration of their matter. A party’s right of access is broader than usual, as the party also has the right of access to non-disclosable documents.

However, not all documents are covered by the party's right of access to information. For example, in judicial proceedings, the address of witnesses and victims may be designated as non-disclosable information for security reasons. In addition, those who take part in a tendering procedure organised by an authority are not entitled to obtain information on the business or trade secrets of other tenderers.

It is an integral part of good governance that parties to a matter are informed of a decision made in the matter directly by the authorities and not through the media.

Restrictions on access to information

Access to preparatory information

Under the Act on the Openness of Government Activities, access to documents may usually be restricted on the grounds that the processing of a matter is still under way.

However, preparatory documents may enter the public domain in certain situations even before the decision-making stage. For example, access to different reports and the draft budget can usually be granted even before the final decision-making. The Act obliges public authorities to keep available information on legislation being drafted and on other matters of general importance that are being prepared.


Under the Constitution, documents may be designated as non-disclosable only if so provided by law. The key non-disclosure provisions are laid down in the Act on the Openness of Government Activities.

These provisions protect important public and private interests, including

  • international relations
  • prevention and prosecution of crime
  • security arrangements and preparedness for emergencies
  • national security
  • incomes, financial, monetary and foreign exchange policy
  • credibility and functioning of the financial and insurance systems
  • functioning of the capital and financial markets
  • protection of natural values
  • efficiency of the inspection and supervisory tasks of authorities
  • protection of legitimate expectations
  • public economic interests
  • private economic interests
  • interests of research and development, and interests of education
  • the safety of asylum seekers and
  • protection of privacy.

If a document only contains some non-disclosable information, access must be granted to the public part of the document by covering the non-disclosable parts.

Publications and brochures

Because the right of access to official documents is a fundamental right, public authorities must promote its implementation. Authorities must produce material describing their activities, such as publications, brochures and statistics and information on their decisions that have major importance to society.

Authorities must also ensure that key documents concerning their activities are easily accessible, for example in information networks.

The Act on the Openness of Government Activities also obliges authorities to inform the general public of their activities.

Did you find the information referred to at the beginning?

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