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Friday, November 18, 2011

AP tests the information access promise

AP-Associated Press- has released a report after testing the freedom of information promise in over 100 countries including Australia. It appears that the requests for responses to The Questions  about terrorism arrests and convictions were not submitted as formal FOI applications. AP put them here to the Attorney-General's Department, Australian Federal Police, and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. Answers  in writing with a list of names, dates, cases and outcomes were forthcoming after 83 days. As an aside, an FOI applicant couldn't expect requested information like this to be provided in the neat spreadsheet that AP posted here as the original response. More's the pity.

In the spirit of transparency AP has made the story  available to anyone, along with all the data, videos, interactive, and related coverage. "For the first time in our 150 year history we’re putting everything up on a Facebook page for anyone to use."

There's a terrorism related story in this for Australian newshounds. Thanks to Martha Mendoza of AP for the heads up.   

From AP's world wide assessment:
"The promise is magnificent: More than 5.3 billion people in more than 100 countries now have the right - on paper - to know the truth about what their government is doing behind closed doors. Such laws have spread rapidly over the past decade, and when they work, they present a powerful way to engage citizens and expose corruption.
... In a single week in January, AP reporters submitted questions about terrorism arrests and convictions, vetted by experts, to the European Union and the 105 countries with right-to-know laws or constitutional provisions. AP also interviewed more than 100 experts worldwide and reviewed hundreds of studies.
Among its findings:
- Only 14 countries answered in full within their legal deadline. Another 38 countries eventually answered most questions.
- Newer democracies were in general more responsive than some developed ones. Guatemala sent all documents in 10 days, and Turkey in seven. By comparison, Canada asked for a 200-day extension, and the FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large blanked section.
- More than half the countries did not release anything, and three out of 10 did not even acknowledge the request.
- Dozens of countries adopted their laws at least in part because of financial incentives, and so are more likely to ignore or limit them. China changed its laws to join the World Trade Organization in 2001, and later expanded them beyond trade. Pakistan adopted its 2002 ordinance in return for $1.4 billion from the International Monetary Fund. Neither country responded to the AP's test.
"Having a law that's not being obeyed is almost worse than not having a law at all," says Daniel Metcalf, the leading U.S. Freedom of Information authority at the Justice Department for the past 25 years, now a law professor at American University. "The entire credibility of a government is at stake."

1 comment:

  1. "The FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large blanked section."

    Surely not. They are usually so efficient and transparent! NOT!