Though not binding, the principles are welcome statements that form part of the government information framework established by the FOI Act, Privacy Act 1988, Archives Act 1983 and other legislation and the general law.They will be applied by the OAIC when monitoring agency compliance with the publication requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
Let's hope the principles are nailed to the wall alongside the Open Government Declaration of last year, and incorporated in senior executive and induction training and all points in between until they become second nature across the Australian Public Service. Oh, and brought to the attention of ministers and their staff forcefully and on a regular basis.
There has been a little winding back from some aspects of the draft, perhaps reflecting the fact that parts went beyond the strict letter of the law-more's the pity.
- Draft "Principle 1 Open access- a default position" included reference to an agency's "obligation to maximise the amount of information that is published voluntarily, rather than waiting for specific requests under the FOI Act." Highly desirable spirit and intent stuff, but it didn't make it through probably because the act does not require an agency to publish anything that isn't stipulated, and the Commissioner has no powers to force more. Something less appears in "Principle 7 Appropriate charging for access": "Agencies can reduce the cost of public access by publishing information online, especially information that is routinely sought by the public."
- A cautionary note to not go overboard that was not in the draft appears in the final version of "Principle 4 Robust information asset management", requiring agencies to: "identify data that must be managed in accordance with legislative and legal requirements, including requirements relating to data security and protection of personal information, intellectual property, business confidentiality and legal professional privilege."
- The bean counters appear to have zeroed in on this section of the draft on charging, which had users rejoicing: "The principle of open access to public sector information requires that the cost of access to individuals is not unreasonably restrictive. Appropriate charging for access to information can be achieved by: not charging more than the additional marginal cost of providing access to published information, and in particular excluding from calculation cost associated with producing the information.." But none of this survived. "Principle 7 Appropriate charging for access" has a more parsimonious tone strictly in accordance with the law: "The FOI Act requires agencies to facilitate public access to information at the lowest reasonable cost. This principle applies when information is provided upon request or is published by an agency. Other Acts also authorise charges for specific documents or information access."
My suggestion that the draft refer to the need for an agency to have a plan for more open government is partly answered by the reference in Governance to the senior officer "champion" instigating strategic planning on information resource management. There is nothing specific in response to my second suggestion that the Commissioner indicate how progress will be measured, except perhaps this in ITnews:
One of McMillan's few enforcement options will be via the Freedom of Information Act, under which his office is required to monitor how each agency responds to requirements to publish information. (See the Information Publication Scheme which commenced on 1 May, 2011.) “This provides an excellent opportunity to ask them whether they are aware of observing these standards,” he said.Indeed.
1: Open access to information – a default position
2: Engaging the community
3: Effective information governance
4: Robust information asset management
6: Clear reuse rights
7: Appropriate charging for access
8: Transparent enquiry and complaints processes
The full text follows
Principles on open public sector information
The Principles on open public sector information form part of a core vision for government information management in Australia. They rest on the democratic premise that public sector information is a national resource that should be available for community access and use.
Transparency and public access to government information are important in their own right and can bolster democratic government. Information-sharing better enables the community to contribute to policy formulation, assist government regulation, participate in program administration, provide evidence to support decision making and evaluate service delivery performance. A free flow of information between government, business and the community can also stimulate innovation to the economic and social advantage of the nation.
These Principles were developed by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) through a process of public consultation. They draw on considerable work in Australia and overseas that defines standards and principles to shape government information management practices. That work, undertaken by government agencies, public inquiries and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, is discussed in an OAIC issues paper, Towards an Australian Government Information Policy (2010).
The Principles will be applied by the OAIC in its role of monitoring compliance by Australian Government agencies with the publication objectives of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act). The Principles are not otherwise binding on agencies, and operate alongside legal requirements about information management that are spelt out in the FOI Act, Privacy Act 1988, Archives Act 1983 and other legislation and the general law.
Principle 1: Open access to information – a default position Information held by Australian Government agencies is a valuable national resource. If there is no legal need to protect the information it should be open to public access. Information publication enhances public access. Agencies should use information technology to disseminate public sector information, applying a presumption of openness and adopting a proactive publication stance.
Principle 2: Engaging the community Australian Government policy requires agencies to engage the community online in policy design and service delivery. This should apply to agency information publication practices. Agencies should: consult the community in deciding what information to publish and about agency publication practices; welcome community feedback about the quality, completeness, usefulness and accuracy of published information; respond promptly to comments received from the community and to requests for information;employ Web 2.0 tools to support community consultation.
Principle 3: Effective information governance Australian Government agencies should manage information as a core strategic asset. A senior executive ‘information champion’ or knowledge officer in the agency should be responsible for information management and governance, including: providing leadership on agency compliance with the Information Publication Scheme and Disclosure Log; ensuring agency compliance with legislative and policy requirements on information management and publication; managing agency information to ensure its integrity, security and accessibility; instigating strategic planning on information resource management; ensuring community consultation on agency information policy and publication practices.The senior officer should be supported by an information governance body that may include people from outside the agency.
Principle 4: Robust information asset management Effective information management requires agencies to: maintain an asset inventory or register of the agency's information; identify the custodian of each information holding and the responsibilities of that officer; train staff in information management; establish clear procedures and lines of authority for decisions on information publication and release; decide if information should be prepared for publication at the time it is created and the form of publication; document known limitations on data quality; identify data that must be managed in accordance with legislative and legal requirements, including requirements relating to data security and protection of personal information, intellectual property, business confidentiality and legal professional privilege; protect information against inappropriate or unauthorised use, access or disclosure; preserve information for an appropriate period of time based on sound archival practices.
Principle 5: Discoverable and useable information The economic and social value of public sector information can be enhanced by publication and information sharing. This requires that information can easily be discovered and used by the community and other stakeholders. To support this objective agencies should: publish an up to date information asset register; ensure that information published online is in an open and standards-based format and is machine-readable; attach high quality metadata to information so that it can be easily located and linked to similar information using standard web search applications; publish information in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2 (WCAG 2.0) endorsed by the Australian Government in November 2009.
Principle 6: Clear reuse rights The economic and social value of public sector information is enhanced when it is made available for reuse on open licensing terms. The Guidelines on Licensing Public Sector Information for Australian Government Agencies require agencies to decide licensing conditions when publishing information online. The default condition should be the Creative Commons BY standard, as recommended in the Intellectual Property Principles for Australian Government Agencies,that apply to agencies subject to the Financial and Management Accountability Act 1997. Additional guidance on selecting an appropriate licence is given in the Australian Government Open Access and Licensing Framework (AUSGOAL).
Principle 7: Appropriate charging for access The FOI Act requires agencies to facilitate public access to information at the lowest reasonable cost. This principle applies when information is provided upon request or is published by an agency. Other Acts also authorise charges for specific documents or information access. Agencies can reduce the cost of public access by publishing information online, especially information that is routinely sought by the public. Charges that may be imposed by an agency for providing access should be clearly explained in an agency policy that is published and regularly reviewed.
Principle 8: Transparent enquiry and complaints processes Agency decision making about information publication should be transparent. This can be supported, within the agency's information governance framework, by an enquiry and complaints procedure for the public to raise issues about agency publication and access decisions. The procedure should be published, explain how enquiries and complaints will be handled, set timeframes for responding, identify possible remedies and complaint outcomes, and require that written reasons be provided in complaint resolution.