Sunday, September 27, 2009

Right to Know Day (FOIA and all that jazz)

Monday, Sept. 28 is International Right to Know Day!

International Right to Know Day was established by access to information advocates from around the globe. It was first celebrated on 28 September 2003, and 2009 will see the 7th International Right to Know Day.

The aim of Right to Know Day is to raise awareness of every individual's right of access to government-held information: the right to know how elected officials are exercising power and how the tax-payers' money is being spent. (snip)

What You Can Do
if you are an NGO / civil society organization ... hold an event, a debate, an award ceremony .... write a press release ... hold a discussion with a local community group or in the local school ... print up posters and t-shirts and hand them out in the streets ... get people involved and, best of all, get them exercising their rights by filing request for information!

if you are an individual ... file a request for information, write a letter to your local newspaper, ask your local town hall to put up notices telling people about the right to information, or ask them to put more information on their website ... write to your local council or to your member of parliament and ask them what they are doing to promote government transparency!

if you are a teacher or pupil ... have a discussion in class about the right to know and why open government is important ... think of some requests you can file with your local authority or with a government body such as the Ministry of Education ... find a local issue that you would like to know more about such as the quality of the drinking water or the budget for the sports centre and file requests for more information!

if you are a librarian or write an Internet blog ... you already understand the value of information, so make sure you inform your members/readers about Right to Know Day!
(from the FOIA Advocates' International Right to Know Day website... There is lots more there, most especially including a wonderful Resources page with excellent links to organizations, Guides, Toolkits, Papers, and a link to selected cases on access to government information litigation from Bulgaria. I am guessing that this section is growing so it's worth checking back. Bookmark it!

And, even more useful than the Right To Know Day website, the Journal Governance is giving free online access to an excellent article on the right to know litigation: Cary Coglianese*, The Transparency President? The Obama Administration and Open Government, Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions


President Obama has trumpeted transparency as a major part of his agenda, promising "unprecedented" openness throughout the federal government. Although Obama benefits politically from the contrast with his predecessor's reputation for secrecy, in the long run an excessive emphasis on fishbowl governance can raise unrealistic expectations and ultimately backfire. After all, at some point transparency has its costs, such as when disclosure dampens internal deliberation or undermines privacy. The real issue, then, is how much transparency and what type. Despite its rhetoric, the Obama Administration has placed limits on transparency and will likely continue to do so. Yet members of the public and open government activists are unlikely to appreciate the need for such limits, leading to disappointment and charges of hypocrisy. It remains unclear whether Barack Obama will earn the mantle of the "transparency president"—or whether the hopes he has raised will, when unfulfilled, only reinforce public cynicism.

*University of Pennsylvania

Tip of the OOTJ hat to my wonderful Suffolk colleague, Alasdair Roberts, who edits the journal, and passed all this information along to his colleagues.

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