Thursday, October 23, 2014

Freedom of information: How it works in Norway

While we're all wailing and gnashing our teeth about the corruption of our Official Information Act, the Open Government Partnership has a great piece on how Norway does it better. Key to their approach is proactive publication of the metadata of all government documents, down to the lowliest email:

Norway’s Freedom of Information Act cuts across state, county and municipal governments. It interfaces with the Archives Act and Noark [the Norwegian Archival Standard] by requiring administrative agencies to keep and publish a register of metadata daily to an online access portal, the Offentlig Elektronisk Postjournal (OEP). The OEP, a central access point for government information, enables users to search all records across government for a given issue and make requests easily and rapidly. Anyone, anywhere in the world can request access to records through the OEP. See

Under the Act, government documents, including email, are available for access as soon as they are produced, received or transmitted by a central government agency unless there is a legal restriction. About one fifth of the records, classified for security reasons, are not listed in the register. Agencies have five days in which to respond to information requests, via the OEP or direct to the agency. They provide the documents by email, fax or regular mail, normally within two to three days.

By the end of 2012, the OEP contained over five million registry entries published by 105 government agencies. It processed about 20,000 information requests a month: 50% from journalists (50%), 28% from citizens and businesses, 21% from public employees and 3% from researchers.

The Government is considering the possibility of providing direct access to full text documents through the OEP to make administration more open and transparent and enable government agencies to work more efficiently. There is significant potential for linking records to data to support data traceability and enable reliable Open Data.

The result is that people can see what the Norwegian government is doing virtually in real time.

I would like to see such a system (and Norwegian response timelines) here. But can we really imagine any of our political parties standing up for our democratic rights and volunteering to make themselves more accountable to us? It would be like turkeys voting for christmas - they won't do it unless we force them to.

[Hat-tip: Andrew E]