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Freedom of information legislation

From Academic Kids

Nearly sixty countries around the world have implemented some form of freedom of information legislation, which sets rules on governmental secrecy. Over forty more countries are working towards introducing such laws.

Contents

Some countries with existing legislation

Australia

In Australia, the Freedom of Information Act was passed at the federal level in 1982, followed later by equivalent legislation in the states and territories.

Canada

In Canada, the Access to Information Act allows citizens to demand records from federal bodies. This is enforced by the Information Commissioner of Canada. There is also a complimentary Privacy Act, introduced in 1983. The purpose of the Privacy Act is to extend the present laws of Canada that protect the privacy of individuals with respect to personal information about themselves held by a federal government institution and that provide individuals with a right of access to that information. It is a Crown copyright. Complaints for possible violations of the Act may be reported to the privacy commissioner of Canada.

Provinces and territories of Canada may also have legislation governing access to government information. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act applies to the province of Ontario's provincial ministries and agencies, boards and most commissions, as well as community colleges and district health councils. In Quebec the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information governs access to government information. Currently, only Prince Edward Island has no access or privacy legislation in force.

Finland

France

In France, the accountability of public servants is a constitutional right, according to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

The Law of 17 July, 1978 sets as a general rule that citizens can demand a copy of any administrative document (in paper, digitized or other form). The commission of access to administrative documents (CADA), an independent administrative authority, may help in the process. Regulations specify maximal fees of reproduction. Only final versions, not work documents, may be requested. There exist a number of exemptions:

  • Documents established in the process of justice.
  • Documents of cases before the national ombudsman.
  • Documents carrying an appreciation or judgment over a named or easily identifiable person, or containing private information of that person (such as medical records), when the person requesting the document is not the person described in the document or, in some cases, from his or her family; such documents may often still be obtained after the names of the persons involved are erased;
  • Documents for which that are already available to the public (for instance, publishing in the Journal Officiel).
  • Documents with secrets regarding national defense or national foreign policy (though they may often be communicated after erasure of certain passages).
  • Internal deliberations of the national executive.
  • Documents from fiscal, customs, criminal enquiries.

Certain exempted documents may still be available according to other statutes. For instance, some tax-related informations about any taxpayer are available to any other taxpayer from the same tax district.

CADA does not have the power to order administrations to surrender documents, though it may strongly incite them to do so. However, citizens can challenge the refusal of the administration before the administrative courts (i.e. courts hearing recourses against the executive). Unfortunately, these courts are overbooked, and citizens must often wait several years to have their rights examined in a fair trial. France has been declared guilty of excessive delays (more than 10 years) many times by the European Court of Human Rights.

External links

Germany

In Germany there are four of sixteen "Bundesländer" with an "Informations-Freiheits-Gesetz" (Freedom of information law), see [1] (http://www.jurawiki.de/InformationsFreiheit)

Ireland

The Irish Freedom of Information Act came into effect in April, 1998. The Act has led to a sea-change in the relationship between the citizen, journalists, government departments and public bodies. There are very few restrictions on the information that can be made public. A notable feature is the presumption that anything not restricted by the Act is accessible. In this regard it is a much more liberal Act than the UK Act. Decisions of public bodies in relation to requests for information may be reviewed by the Information Commissioner.

One particular controversy which has caused concern to journalists and historians is that traditionally government ministers would annotate and sign any major policy or report documents which they had seen. However this practice has fallen out of favour because of the new openness. This annotation and signing of documents has often given a paper trail and unique insight as to "what the minister knew" about a controversy or how he or she formed an opinion on a matter. While this information would not often be released, and sometimes only under the thirty year rule, the fact that government ministers now do not annotate and sign documents creates the concerns that while government is open it is not accountable as to who did or saw what or how decision making process works.

Japan

In Japan, "Law Concerning Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs"(行政機関の保有する情報の公開に関する法律) was promulgated in 1999. The law was enforced in 2001.

In many local governments, it establishes the regulations about information disclosure(情報公開条例) from the latter half of 1980's.

External links

Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications(総務省)

Norway

The Freedom of Information Act (http://home.online.no/~wkeim/lov-19700619-069-eng.html) of 19 June 1970 is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in Norway on a national level. Article 100 of the Constitution (http://odin.dep.no/ud/norsk/dok/andre_dok/rapporter/032201-220007/hov021-bu.html) gives access to public documents.

Slovenia

Slovenia passed the Access to Public Information Act (http://www.dostopdoinformacij.si/index.php?id=253#236) on March 2003. The Act governs the procedure which ensures everyone free access to public information held by state bodies, local government bodies, public agencies, public funds and other entities of public law, public powers holders and public service contractors.

Information Commissioner's (http://www.accesstoinformation.si) site

South Africa

South Africa passed the Promotion of Access to Information Act on 2 February 2000. It is intended "To give effect to the constitutional right of access to any information held by the State and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights"; the right of access to privately held information is an interesting feature, as most freedom of information laws only cover governmental bodies.

Sweden

In Sweden, the fundamental law of 1766 concerning Freedom of Press granted public access to government documents. It is thus a fundamental part of the Swedish Constitution. In Swedish this is known as Offentlighetsprincipen (The Principle of Publicity), and has been valid since.

United Kingdom

Main article: Freedom of Information Act (United Kingdom)

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (2000 c. 36) is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United Kingdom on a national level, with the exception of Scottish bodies, which are covered by the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002.

United States

Main article: Freedom of Information Act (United States)

In the United States the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966 and went into effect the following year. The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments were signed by President Bill Clinton on October 2, 1996.

The FOIA applies only to federal agencies. Some of the states have enacted similar statutes to require disclosures by agencies of the state and of local governments, such as the Freedom of Information Law in New York (sections 84-90 of the Public Officers Law (http://www.dos.state.ny.us/coog/foil2.htm)).

The Executive Order 13233, drafted by Alberto R. Gonzales and issued by George W. Bush on November 1, 2001 shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, is used to cripple the FOIA by restricting access to the records of former presidents.

Countries with pending legislation

See also

External links

de:Informationsfreiheitsgesetz ja:情報公開法

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