The argument for human rights is based upon protection for individuals against one-sided, deceitful, inefficient, oppressive, arbitrary, cowardly, and bullying government. They are the rights that are necessary for our individual integrity, for our acceptance by the state and civil society as full members of that community, of our right to belong … We are not treated as full members when government does not provide us with information about the effect of [its] decisions, the outcomes of such decisions, or the use of resources that made the exercise of power possible.
…the New Zealand FOI regime probably fares the best, given its progressive openness and high level of political and official support, sustained by a wider pluralistic culture. The UK follows New Zealand, with reasonably high rates of disclosure, a strong Information Commissioner, single use of the veto, and some explicit political support. Third is Ireland and fourth Australia, both of which, despite high levels of use and disclosure, suffer from a high level of appeals, a lack of political support and consequent restrictive reform. Canada comes last as it has continually suffered from a combination of low use, low political support and a weak Information Commissioner since its inception.
The importance of access to information is clearer when the right to freedom of expression is considered more narrowly. Suppose that our concern is with expression on a specific subject: for example, about government’s effectiveness in executing a policy. In some cases, government agencies may be informational monopolists: that is, they may have exclusive control over critical information required for intelligence discussion of the policy. If no right of access is recognized, the right to free expression is hollowed out. Citizens will have the right to say what they think, but what they think will not count for much, precisely because it is known to be grossly uninformed. A more sensible approach would be to treat government monopolists just as we treat private media monopolists, by curbing their monopoly power so that we may promote free expression.
Arguments about the right to information should be resolved by reference to its role in protecting the fundamental interests of citizens, and not by reference to the history or structural characteristics of the institution holding the contested information.
Information watchdogs, researchers, media and others say government, institutions keeping citizens in the dark even as opportunities for transparency increase.
A good long form piece about the existing deficits in Canada’s access to information policies and laws. These laws are designed to let Canadians understand their governments and hold them to account. Unfortunately, our laws have become so atrophied that they are often more helpful for getting documents of some (routinely minor) historical import instead of getting documents that can meaningfully enable citizens to be active in their democracies.
Some real gems in that post. Highly recommended if you want to understand why researchers/journalists complain vociferously about the hell of FOIA/ATIP laws.
Via The Tyee:
Last September I filed FOIs that got me blacklisted for a time, depriving voters of facts they deserve.
You should read Bob’s article in case you’re curious about why the press, academics, and active citizens laugh at the ‘transparency’ into government operations made possible by access to information, or freedom of information and access, laws.
I would note: one of my colleagues has had a federal access request open for seven years at this point. Our work on license place recognition equipment, at the federal level, has been open almost two years, with no end in sight. There have been repeated ‘inappropriate’ (read: illegal, except it’s not illegal if the police do it, right?) closures of our file, and personal involvement by the federal information commissioner.
ATIP and FOI laws are a joke, and a bad ones at that.