Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Freedom of information laws throughout the world

Things are going to be quiet around here this week: my modem abruptly ceased working on Sunday afternoon. Owing to the holiday I expect that the new one won't arrive until Friday at the earliest and that the coffeeshop in which I'm writing this post and all of my other usual wifi hotspots will be closed.

However, I wanted to draw your attention to a recent Associated Press article highlighting the results of its first-ever test of freedom of information laws throughout the world. At present, 105 countries have such laws, but the experience of the AP, which submitted requests for information to all of these nations and to the European Union, reveals that the extent to which these laws are observed varied widely.
  • Only 14 countries supplied all the information requested within the time frame specified in their laws, and 38 more eventually complied. More than half ignored the AP's requests altogether.
  • Newer democracies often complied more swiftly than mature democracies. Moreover, newer democracies' laws, which tend to reflect the existence of the Internet, are often better suited to today's world than the laws that mature democracies enacted decades ago, when the overwhelming majority of records were created on paper and the Xerox machine was the height of technological sophistication.
  • Many countries adopted freedom of information laws as a condition of securing foreign assistance, and most of these countries ignore or seek to circumscribe these laws as quickly as possible.
  • In some countries, citizens who file freedom of information requests may be targeted for retaliation. In India, where activists are using such requests to expose and combat entrenched governmental corruption, at least a dozen people who have filed freedom of information requests have been killed and dozens more have been violently attacked.
It's an interesting, thought-provoking piece, and it bears close reading.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Most discouraging, although sadly not surprising. One piece of legislation isn't going to change systemic or cultural opposition to expedient records release.

The improved performance of younger democracies is at least a silver lining.