Friday, November 18, 2011

Testing freedom of information worldwide

The Associated Press has just published the results of an ambitious global test of freedom of information laws. They asked 105 countries with FOI laws for basic information regarding arrests and convictions for terrorism. The results were disappointing:

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 [35 in total - I/S] did not even acknowledge the request.

The survey's methodology, results, and individual responses are all available online. new Zealand's response - one of the 14 which responded fully and on time - is here.

The result about new democracies mirrors that of the Six Question Campaign a few months back. And what it shows us is that the established democracies can't take this for granted. As can be seen from the above, a combination of weak laws, poor enforcement, and official contempt allows governments to deny or frustrate even routine requests for information. If we want them to be accountable to us, that's not something we can let them get away with.