Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Missouri’s governor counters FOI probe with records demands of his own

Mo. governor counters FOI probe with records demands of his own

By The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Under investigation for alleged Sunshine Law violations, Gov. Matt Blunt's administration is retaliating with its own use of Missouri's open-records law.

When attorney general's investigators sought records from Blunt, he responded likewise. When Blunt was sued for those records, he renewed his own Sunshine Law demands. And when a lawmaker spoke poorly of the governor, Blunt's team quickly slapped him with an open-records request.

Blunt's point is that others are playing politics with the Sunshine Law. To any critic who questions his Sunshine Law compliance, Blunt is essentially saying: Put your records where your mouth is.

But several freedom-of-information experts, who track open-records disputes around the nation, describe Blunt's actions as both troubling and unusual.

"They're responding to an investigation in the executive office of the state of Missouri by sort of using public-records laws to create their own investigative powers, and I think that's a pretty inappropriate use of public-records laws," said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, based at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

By issuing Sunshine Law requests to other offices, "it appears to me from this distance that he's engaging in political retribution, and that he's trying to punish those that are essentially trying to do their jobs," adds professor Bill Chamberlin, director of the Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project at the University of Florida.

E-mails are one of the hottest topics nationally for those who follow freedom-of-information laws. Whether e-mails must be saved and, if so, in what format and for how long — those sorts of questions and disputes are bubbling up all over the place.

"Every state is struggling with it. Very few have gotten into the pettiness that appears to have evolved in Missouri," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, based in Arlington, Va.

Missouri's e-mail controversy began late last summer when Blunt and his staff acknowledged they routinely delete some e-mails. It heightened when former governor's office attorney Scott Eckersley publicly claimed last October that he was fired after advising colleagues they may be misapplying or violating Missouri's record-retention requirements.

Following a confidential tip that Blunt's administration had tried unsuccessfully to tape over the state's backup e-mail files, Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon appointed what he described as an independent investigative team to look into alleged Sunshine Law violations by the Republican governor's office.

At the time, Nixon was campaigning against Blunt for the 2008 gubernatorial election. Since then, Blunt has announced he will not seek re-election. But Blunt's exit from the race did not end the job of Nixon's appointed investigators.

The investigators used the Sunshine Law to submit 45 requests for governor's office records.

Blunt responded with his own Sunshine Law requests — each coming with an explanation for its issuance, but each also coming at a time that suggests retaliation for a certain action.

  • After the news media reported that Blunt's office wanted to charge investigators $541,000 for the records, the governor's office responded March 12 by issuing a 15-point Sunshine Law request for records from the attorney general's office.

    Blunt's administration said it was concerned Nixon's office "may have committed very serious violations of the Sunshine Law." It cited a Sept. 24 Associated Press article in which an attorney general's spokesman said he deletes some e-mails that he believes are not required to be kept under the Sunshine Law.

  • Nixon's appointed investigators sued Blunt May 5, still seeking the records while raising allegations that Blunt's administration sought to destroy the state's backup e-mail tapes. The next day, Blunt's office responded with a renewed Sunshine Law request for every backup e-mail tape from the attorney general's office.

    Blunt's chief of staff, Trish Vincent, explained: "Given Attorney General Nixon's grandstanding and legal antics on the issue of e-mail, we would assume he has retained all of his e-mail backup tapes."

  • On May 6, Democratic attorney general candidate Rep. Jeff Harris, of Columbia, mentioned Blunt's alleged attempt to destroy backup e-mail files during a House budget debate. The following day, Blunt's office responded with a Sunshine Law request seeking copies of every document created and received during the past five years by Harris and his staff.

    Vincent explained that if Harris is such a strong advocate for the Sunshine Law, "he will demonstrate this commitment by providing the information we have requested."

    But there is a significant distinction between the Sunshine Law requests made by the attorney general's investigators and those issued from the governor's office.

    The attorney general has a statutory responsibility to investigate allegations of Sunshine Law violations and the legal authority to pursue penalties. That applies even if the allegations involve a political rival.

    The governor's office has no similar duties.

    "While the attorney general's investigation is within the focus of his responsibilities, it is hard to see the governor's attempt as anything other than political, because he has no related powers" to enforce the Sunshine Law, Chamberlin said.

    Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson said "it's a double standard that is as obvious as it is disappointing" to suggest Blunt's actions are political and not Nixon's.

    By his aggressive use of the Sunshine Law, Blunt is trying to frame the allegations and legal investigations against his office as inherently political, Davis said.

    "It's a very attractive political strategy, I guess, because it raises a lot of smoke, it creates a lot of diversion," Davis said. But "it's the sort of politicization of the Sunshine Law that makes me kind of nervous."

  • Related

    E-mail presents thorny issue for public employees, records advocates

    In Missouri, governor's admission that he has deleted e-mails highlights other government workers' struggle with inbox overload vs. Sunshine Law. 09.25.07

    States fight to keep officials' e-mail from public inspection
    Open-records advocates contend by keeping electronic communications private, states are giving their elected officials an avenue to operate in secret. 03.19.08

    Mo. governor subpoenas reporters in defamation suit
    Attorneys want to question AP, Kansas City Star journalists about media packets Gov. Matt Blunt's administration sent defending firing of staff lawyer. 04.14.08

    Mo. governor, aides accused of ordering e-mail purge
    Allegations come in lawsuit filed by government investigators who were appointed to look into whether Gov. Matt Blunt's office had violated open-records law by deleting some e-mails. 05.06.08

    Sunday, May 25, 2008

    Secrecy is as secrecy does; happy birthday, Mr. Madison

    Published: March 21, 2008 09:22 pm    print this story   email this story  

    Secrecy is as secrecy does; happy birthday, Mr. Madison

    The Back Porch

    By Nerissa Young

    Happy belated birthday, James Madison. Your birthday was Sunday, but this column runs on Saturdays.

    What would you think of America today? You labored hard to write a Constitution for a new country and took your inspiration from the most idealistic ideals about the value of human life and liberty. When the states demanded liberties for individuals, you sat at your desk to write the Bill of Rights and then politicked for the package deal until enough states ratified the Constitution to make the declared colonies a bona fide nation.

    Sometimes when I look at this free nation and see a secret, closed society, I feel as though we've let you down. We are the guardians of the liberties for which you toiled; yet we seem incapable of doing little more than whining.

    But some people still care. In fact, they established Sunshine Week during the week of your birthday each year to advocate openness in U.S. government. All across the country, media are celebrating your legacy with columns, editorials, stories and ads encouraging people to pursue their right to know what their government is doing.

    Disgust with the government and some fresh faces have increased voter turnout this presidential election year. People seem to be energized and expecting something different. I hope they realize they can get it only if they demand it. That was what you wanted, Mr. Madison. In fact, you built into the Constitution just such a mechanism for change through amendment.

    In a survey commissioned for Sunshine Week, three of four Americans said the federal government is secretive and nine of 10 Americans said it's important to know where presidential and congressional candidates stand on open government.

    The change in just two years is dramatic in the results gathered by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University. The 2006 survey showed 62 percent of Americans believed the government is somewhat or very secretive. The 2008 results showed that number spiking to 74 percent.

    So what about the presidential candidates? In October, Sunshine Week officials sent a brief open government survey to the 16 Democrats and Republicans then in the race for the presidency. They were asked again to respond in December. Only Democratic candidates John Edwards and Bill Richardson responded.

    But a funny thing happened on the way to gathering super delegates. Sen. Hillary Clinton sent her response just as your birthday dawned. This literal ray of sunshine is refreshing and unexpected from the woman who held her health care reform meetings in secret during her husband's first term as president and who refused to disclose her net worth earlier this year. Hmm, Mr. Madison. That smells like the horse stables at your farm in Montpelier, but you obviously advocated letting people be heard. At least she answered, albeit tardily. That's more than Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have done.

    "I believe in an open, transparent government that is accountable to the people. Excessive government secrecy harms democratic governance and can weaken our system of checks and balances by shielding officials from oversight and inviting misconduct or error. To me, openness and accountability are not platitudes — they are essential elements of our democracy."

    Nice rhetoric, but I bet she stands foursquare for puppies, children, Mom and apple pie, too.

    Here's what Clinton said she will do:

    - Use the Internet to post budgets and performance.

    - Ban Cabinet officials from lobbying once they leave the White House.

    - Encourage more open meetings and public documents.

    - Change the classification system to make more documents open, public records.

    - Protect journalists from having to reveal sources and notes.

    - Demand a presumption of openness from her appointed attorney general.

    - Put financial pressure on agencies to pay from their own budgets for failing to comply with the federal Freedom of Information Act.

    - Encourage all courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to be open to electronic media.

    - Disclose donations to presidential libraries and foundations. "When I am president, the Clinton Library and Clinton Foundation will prospectively disclose their donors."

    Why wait, Sen. Clinton? Why not show good faith by disclosing now? Then, maybe we can believe the rest of what you say you will do.

    Happy birthday, James Madison.

    — Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail:

    Taking Democracy Seriously: Mandatory voting

    Taking Democracy Seriously

    Joel S. Hirschhorn

    American: So you mean that if you Australians don't vote, you get a fine?
    Australian: Yeah, and when you Americans don't vote you get George W. Bush.

    As surely as politicians lie, citizen apathy produces democracy atrophy. Much more than a right – in a democracy voting is an irrevocable civic duty. No mental gymnastics can help you jump over this ugly reality: Voter turnout over all American elections averages markedly less than half of eligible voters. This disgrace must be fixed.

    These are my proposed solutions: We should make voting mandatory, give voters the option of "none of the above," make Election Day a national holiday, provide same day registration everywhere, and lower the voting age to 16.

    No one reform is a panacea. But together these five reforms can dramatically re-energize voting in America. They could be placed in one constitutional amendment and ratified by the states in time for the 2008 presidential election. Limiting public support, however, is an elitist mindset among people with political power, wealth and intellectual arrogance. They wrongly dismiss large numbers of citizens for their lack of education or political involvement. Electoral reforms can create a culture of voting that ultimately produces a more informed public.

    Mandatory Voting

    This is not a crazy, radical idea. Hold your reaction on what probably is a new idea for you. Over 30 countries have compulsory voting. Violating the law usually merits something akin to a parking fine, but it still works. When Australia adopted it in 1924 turnouts increased from under 50 percent to a consistent 90-plus percent. Conversely, when the Netherlands eliminated compulsory voting in 1970 voting turnouts plunged from 90 percent to less than 50 percent. Polls regularly show 70 percent to 80 percent of Australians support mandatory voting. Research found that people living in countries with compulsory voting are roughly twice as likely to believe that their government is responsive to the public's needs and 2.8 times as likely to vote as compared to citizens in countries without compulsory voting. Is compulsory voting inconsistent with personal freedom? No! We have compulsory education, jury duty, and taxes that are more onerous than voting periodically. And all people have to do is turn out to vote. What they do with their secret ballot is up to them.

    Quote of the Day: "Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among people, who have a right...and a desire to know..."

    "Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among people, who have a right...and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalieanble, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers...Let us...cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write...Let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing."
    - John Adams

    Saturday, May 24, 2008

    Anderson County Council members respond to public records requests

    Anderson County Council members respond to public records requests

    Some Anderson County officials say it's not that the records are not open but that the number of records requested is shutting down the government.

    To investigate the issue, the Anderson Independent-Mail has requested not only all of the Freedom of Information requests the county has received over the past five years but the legal invoices for the county for the past five years.

    In response, county officials said it will cost $17,874.03 to access those records.

    Over the past six months, the Independent-Mail has requested a number of records, including access to the county's credit card transactions. Each time records were released, more questions arose, but actual records in answer to those questions became more difficult to get. Requests for the county administrator's salary became a six-week battle. But this week, Joey Preston did release his salary figure.

    But the reason, Anderson County Council Chairman Michael Thompson said, is not that the county doesn't want to release the records but that the county is being slowed down by the voluminous number of requests.

    "What I am seeing is, the county is swamped with FOIAs. (Preston) is getting information to the people that request it. The information really is getting out, but it takes time," Thompson said. "We have a full-time county employee whose job is basically to answer (council member) Cindy Wilson's FOI requests. I've spoken to him personally, and he says he spends 80 to 85 percent of his time answering Mrs. Wilson's requests."

    On Wednesday, the Independent-Mail asked Anderson County Assistant Administrator Michael Cunningham if there was a county employee whose job it was to deal with FOI requests, but Cunningham did not respond to the question by press time on Thursday.

    Thompson said he was not concerned about the amount of time it took the administration to answer requests. In fact, he usually didn't have any problems getting information from the administration, he said. Access to public records is not something that Anderson County residents are worried about, he said.

    "My constituents don't spend a lot of time micromanaging the administration. If they have a problem, they bring it to me, and I get it resolved," he said. "They are tired of all this ying and yang going on and bringing the county down. Not only the constituents, but people who come up to me. People perceive us as being a bunch of nuts. Real estate is suffering because they see all the negativity on council, and they wonder whether or not they want to move here."

    Ms. Wilson said her legal battles with the county are not the problem. The problem, she said, is the county's reluctance to allow the public to see those records.

    "I have spent thousands of my own money to get access to those records, and the county has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money to prevent me from seeing them," she said. "For example, I paid what the administrator requested, $680 of my own money, to see legal vendor files. The county then paid 11 employees to black out everything but the name of the attorney, the date, the amount paid and what account in the county it was applied to."

    The idea that it would take employees a lot of time to fulfill FOI requests for the past five years, she said, is an indication not that the county was overwhelmed but that the county was not well-run.

    She said she is approached not only by her constituents but also by residents of other districts and other counties who tell her to continue her fight.

    County Council member Bob Waldrep said the delay in getting records shows the administration is responsible for the problem.

    "The administration has a siege mentality about public records. They seem to think the public records may reflect negatively on the county, so they don't want to release them," he said. "They don't like to release them, and when they do release them, they are incomplete. I'm certainly very unhappy to the response and availability to public records, records that the public is entitled to."

    Waldrep said he has not only been denied access to records but that several times, when he has filed FOIA requests, he has been asked to pay for the records.

    The Independent-Mail was told that to have access to legal expenses for the past five years, the cost to find those records would be more than $17,100, not including copying fees. To access some 650 FOIA requests the county has received over the past five years would cost more than $730.

    "I think that is out of line. It's contrary to the spirit of open and transparent government," Waldrep said. "This is the last tactic they have … to slow you down and keep you from taking a look at it. We should be proud of the way we're spending the taxpayers money, not fearful of how we're spending taxpayer money."

    Council member Larry Greer said he believes public records should be open to the public. He said the issue isn't one that is of a great concern to his constituents.

    "I personally have never had any complaint with how I have gotten information," Greer said. "There have been a few times that I haven't had what I needed when I needed it, but for the most part, I've gotten what I requested. I have had no citizen's contact me indicating that they have not been able to get public records."

    Council member Gracie Floyd said access to public records is the last thing on the minds of District 2 residents.

    "Most of the folks who come up to me are interested in gasoline prices, dogs, houses to live in, street crime," she said. "Many of the people I talk with aren't interested in that kind of information."

    For her, the frustration is that the number of FOIA requests are bogging down the administration, which does not allow her to get her job done, she said.

    "I'm not opposed to public information. … I feel like, if it's legal for you to have it, then you should get it," she said. "But there's more to do than answer FOI requests. I can't get my stuff done because of all the secretaries and administrative personnel are working on other things."

    Council member Ron Wilson said the political atmosphere in Anderson County creates the problem, as much as the response from the county adds to it.

    "I think county government should be totally open. But I also think that county government in Anderson County is totally different than in Greenville or any other county," he said. "I doubt there is any other county that has as many questions as we have. I'm for open government, but I'm also for things being done in a fair and equal basis. I think the county should respond in a more timely manner when they can. …. I think things should be done in the open and above board, but I also think the politics in this county are damaging.

    "Nobody wants this job. A lot of people don't want to get into this because they are savaged. There's no way you can be in this county without being in one camp or the other."

    Council member Bill McAbee said the county does respond to all the requests it receives, regardless of the intent of the request.

    "The county does respond to FOI requests in the time period required by law," he said. "You hope that everyone is acting in good faith and that (the requests are) not an intentional effort to disrupt government. But, legally, we have to respond, whether (requests are made) in good faith or not."

    The system may not be perfect, he said, but for right now, it works the way it is supposed to, and the county handles the numerous requests it gets as best as it can.

    McAbee said he has never seen all of the FOI requests the county has received, but he understands from the county administrator that they are numerous and that a great many of them pertain to the jail.

    Friday, May 23, 2008

    FOI laws need reviewing: Ombudsman (Aus)

    FOI laws need reviewing: Ombudsman

    Posted 41 minutes ago

    Tasmania's Ombudsman is keen to review the state's Freedom of Information Laws.

    The Ombudsman, Simon Allston, reviews Government department decisions refusing FOI requests.

    Last financial year Mr Allston reviewed 37 FOI refusals.

    He told ABC television's Stateline the time is right for a review, but he doesn't have the resources.

    "It's an integral part of a working democracy to have good FOI legislation and to have it implemented properly," said Mr Allston.

    "Our legislation in this state was first introduced in 1991, and it's hardly been amended in that time, even though there's been a lot of learning developed over that time."

    Mr Allston says there have been similar reviews in other states and at a federal level.

    Access to Information as a Tool for Socio-economic Justice

    Access to Information as a Tool for Socio-economic Justice

    Fahamu (Oxford)

    22 May 2008
    Posted to the web 22 May 2008

    By Mukelani Dimba

    In this article Mukelani Dimba shows how freedom of information legislation can be used by citizens to pursue their socio-economic rights. He argues that it creates the conditions in which government decisions about resource allocation can be effectively challenged.

    The third wave of democratisation in the developing world has created opportunities for development and reconstruction in many nations brought to their knees by past regimes that were oppressive, secretive and undemocratic. This has focused not only on infrastructure and the economy but also on a rethink of the relationship between those in power and those who voted them into power. In this reconfiguration we should recall the words of the American constitutionalist, Alexander Hamilton, who once said that 'If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary... A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary control on government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.'

    These 'auxiliary precautions' referred to by Hamilton included not only the courts and other organs of state but also the constitutional legal framework established to support them. If men and women were angels, basic human freedoms, such as the right to vote and freedom of expression (which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information), would not need to be protected in national constitutions. Nor would there be any need for special constitutional provisions obliging governments to share the spoils of economic growth fairly among citizens by ensuring that even the most impoverished have access to the services needed to sustain life, protect dignity and enhance the prospects of future generations. Alas, men and women are not angels, and we therefore need these 'auxiliary precautions' to protect the democratic order for the material benefit of the poor. It is vital that national constitutions not only protect civil and political rights but also promote the realisation of social and economic rights.

    By social and economic rights, I refer to what Professor Kader Asmal, the South African human rights scholar, activist and former government minister, once called 'the red and green rights', namely the rights to housing, health care, food, social security, social services, education, human dignity in conditions of detention, healthy environment, land and security of tenure.

    The third wave of democracy has not, in most cases, led to the social and economic development of communities previously materially disadvantaged by discriminatory and undemocratic systems of government. I believe that this is largely because the focus has tended to be on the full constitutional protection of civil and political rights as the cornerstone of the democratic order, while neglecting or partially entrenching social and economic rights within the constitutional framework.

    Some correctly argue that democracy is not a sufficient condition for development or for social and economic equality. Many scholars have argued 'that democracy will remain a formality unless it also includes substantive social and economic equality' (Jones and Stokke, 2005). Amartya Sen's argument is that 'democratic institutions are guarantors for public deliberation and effective responses to poverty and deprivation' (Jones and Stoke, 2005). Sen (2000) goes on to argue that:

    'Freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its primary means. Political freedoms (in the form of free speech and elections) help to promote economic security. Social opportunities (in the form of education and health facilities) facilitate economic participation. Economic facilities (in the form of opportunities for participation in trade and production) can help generate personal abundance as well as public resources for social facilities. Freedoms of different kinds can strengthen one another.'

    Mumtaz Soysal, in his 1977 Nobel lecture, argued that:

    'When those deprived of their socio-economic rights cannot make their voices heard, they are even less likely to have their needs met. If a person is deprived of one right, his chance of securing the other rights is usually endangered. The right to education and the right to freedom of information and open debate on official policies are necessary to secure full public participation in the process of social and economic development. The freedom of the human mind and welfare of the human being are inextricably linked.'

    In countries where citizens have been unjustly denied access to certain services and resources because of their race or other societal background, a constitution, as an 'auxiliary precaution', that protects socio-economic rights is vital to the process of redress, reconstruction and redistribution.

    The protection of socio-economic rights by a country's constitution and their progressive realisation partially justiciable by the courts is a departure from the norm, where the focus has tended to be on judicial protection of political and civil rights. Traditionally, freedom of information (FOI) has found its place among the body of these political and civil rights.

    During the era when only a few Scandinavian countries and the USA had freedom of information legislation, these laws created an understanding of FOI as merely part of the right of freedom of expression, which in and of itself had come to be perceived as a right that affected only journalists and political activists. Earlier international legal instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also enveloped FOI within the broader right to freedom of expression. The newer Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression by the African Commission on Human and People's Rights follows a similar route, the major difference being its extension of FOI to privately held information.

    I firmly believe that it is when freedom of information is used as a form of leverage to protect or promote other socio-economic rights that it finds its real meaning in a developing-country context. The well-known and remarkable work of the MKSS in Rajasthan in India, emulated by other organisations in South Africa and elsewhere, shows how FOI can be used to the benefit of local communities and governments by helping social organisations expose corruption that compromises the proper implementation of development projects and social security schemes. This supports the idea that one of the purposes of the tools of democracy, such as FOI, is 'to advance poor people's access to socio-economic resources and services' (Barbeton, Davis and Sarkin, 2000). This is consistent with the United Nations Development Programme in its assertion that:

    'Effective anti-poverty programmes require accurate information on problems hindering development to be in the public domain. Meaningful debates also need to take place on the policies designed to tackle the problems of poverty. Information can empower poor communities to battle the circumstances in which they find themselves and help balance the unequal power dynamic that exists between people marginalised through poverty and their governments.'

    In India, for example, the government runs a massive food subsidy scheme as a social security measure to promote the right to food. Food rations are in most instances distributed through shopkeepers in the private sector, called ration-dealers. A person takes their ration card and collects food parcels from their local ration-dealer. The dealer then claims payment from the government for the food he has distributed to the community. However, some ration-dealers have been reportedly manipulating the process for their own ends by telling people that they have run out of food subsidy stock, offering to sell them food from their 'ordinary trading stock' instead. In the ration-dealers' records these transactions are recorded as distributions related to the food subsidy scheme and money is claimed from the government. The ration-dealers therefore get paid twice, by the customer and by the government.

    This practice was exposed in a number of villages in Rajasthan when these communities, assisted by the MKSS, used the state's freedom of information law to access the claims submitted by the ration-dealers to the government. Massive discrepancies were discovered between what the ration-dealers claimed and what they had actually distributed, which was captured on individual ration cards kept by each member of the community. By accessing government documents these citizens were able to reconcile what was claimed on paper with the reality on the ground. This illustrates vividly the multi-dimensionality of freedom of information in the developing world, where it can be used as tool for accountability, to protect socio-economic rights, fight corruption and improve government efficiency.

    In Thailand, children's right to education and fair and equal treatment was protected when one parent used the country's freedom of information law to challenge a public school's decision denying their child's enrolment in one of the country's best public schools. In seeking access to the results of enrolment tests, the parent exposed the discrimination that had hitherto been part of the selection process, and which favoured children from rich and prominent families. This action prompted a countrywide overhaul of the system of selection and enrolment in public schools.

    However, in countries where freedom of information legislation has not yet been passed, citizens cannot claim the protection it might provide. In an area near the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma, schools were built with donor support on condition that the donor and the government would provide match funding for the money paid by parents towards their running costs; the funds would be controlled by local authorities and school principals. However, inefficiency and some reported cases of corruption have left some of these schools in a state of disrepair. There is simply no accountability for the use of these funds. Local people have no recourse open to them, short of social mobilisation, which in itself require access to information. But Tanzania does not yet have a freedom of information law.

    In neighbouring Kenya, citizens have complained about the mismanagement of constituency development funds (CDF), which are funds controlled by members of parliament to fight poverty at regional levels. CDFs are also used to run educational and bursary schemes and constitute about 7.5 per cent of the government's revenue. However, in Kenya the CDFs are popularly called 'corruption devolvement funds'. Kenyans have very little recourse to ensure that they receive the services to which they are entitled because Kenya does not yet have a freedom of information law.

    Slightly more fortunate are a group of women in KwaZulu-Natal, one of South Africa's poorest provinces. Villagers in the hamlet of Emkhandlwini noticed that those in neighbouring villages were receiving water from municipal tankers while they were not. Their water source was a dirty stream that they shared with their livestock. Luckily, some villagers were aware of their basic civil rights because they had had some training, but they did not know how to seek solutions to the water problem without relying on an unresponsive local government political representative who had until then failed to deal with the issue.

    In 2004, and with the assistance of the Open Democracy Advice Centre, the villagers used South Africa's freedom of information law, the Promotion of Access to Information Act, to ask for the minutes of the council meetings at which the municipality had decided on programmes of water provision. They also asked for the municipality's integrated development plan and budget. It took a frustrating six months before the information was released, but it showed that while there were plans to provide water, no-one had thought of sharing these with the community. With these plans in hand the women started asking difficult questions of the authorities regarding the delivery of water. The media also covered the case, which may have created sufficient pressure to prompt the municipality to act. Almost a year after the initial FOI request, fixed water tanks, replenished a couple of times a week, were installed in the village and mobile water tankers began delivering water, while the municipality worked on a more permanent solution of laying down pipes.

    This case demonstrates how socio-economic rights can be realised through the use of freedom of information and public pressure rather than through litigation. Public pressure to influence resource allocation can only be effectively applied if there is sufficient transparency in the process of resource allocation. Freedom of Information creates the conditions in which decisions about the allocation of resources can be challenged.

    I strongly believe that in countries plagued by socio-economic imbalances inherited from undemocratic systems of government, it is crucial that the products of democratic transition, such as freedom of information legislation, must be used to address these imbalances. In the field of socio-economic rights, as the cases above show, FOI creates a basis for contestation and justification of government decisions on resource allocation. It creates a basis for a fair and reasonable manner of decision-making.

    I wish to conclude this article by quoting South Africa's leading legal academic on administrative law, the late Professor Etienne Mureinik, who once wrote:

    'If the new Constitution is a bridge away from a culture of authority, it is clear what it must be a bridge to. It must lead to a culture of justification - a culture in which every exercise of power is expected and justified, in which the leadership given by government rests on the cogency of the case offered in defence of its decisions, not the fear inspired by the force at its command. The new order must be a community built on persuasion, not coercion.'

    *Mr Dimba is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Open Democracy Advice Center (ODAC), Cape Town. This essay was presented on behalf of the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) on the occasion of the international conference on Right to Public Information, organized by the Carter Centre, 26-29 February 2008, Atlanta, Georgia.

    Thursday, May 22, 2008

    Ottawa urged to share database with provinces:

    Ottawa urged to share database
    Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian speaks to reporters at a news conference after releasing her annual report May 21, 2008.
    Privacy watchdog says Ontario shouldn't create own citizenship records for drivers' licences
    May 22, 2008
    Kerry Gillespie
    Queen's Park Bureau

    Ottawa is wasting taxpayer dollars and providing a target for identity thieves by forcing the province to create its own citizenship database for enhanced drivers' licences, Ontario's privacy watchdog says.

    Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian has urged Ottawa to reconsider this "no-brainer" and give Ontario access to existing federal citizenship information.

    Ontario, like some other provinces, is developing a high-tech driver's licence, which will include citizenship information, as an alternative to passports when driving into the United States.

    "Don't ask us to recreate this information. It would pose enormous risks in terms of inaccuracy, the potential of identity theft (by) creating a new database of very sensitive information, not to mention waste of efficiency and taxpayer dollars. Why would we do this?" Cavoukian said yesterday when she released her annual report.

    "It's almost like a make-work project," she said.

    She said she has written to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Immigration Minister Diane Finley about her concerns.

    "They're looking into it now and we're waiting to hear back from them. Hopefully we'll be able to report to you that they've shifted their position," she said.

    For the moment, Ottawa isn't saying much.

    "Ontario has not yet confirmed whether it will be implementing an enhanced driver's licence program. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to speculate further on how such a program might function," Day's spokesperson, Mélisa Leclerc, said in an email.

    A spokesperson for Transportation Minister Jim Bradley, who is developing the new driver's licence, said the province agrees with the commissioner.

    "We don't want to create a new database. What we want is an infrastructure put in place so that provinces can talk to each other as well as the federal government ... and relay that information in a secure way," Nicole Lippa-Gasparro said.

    Citizenship verification can be done with a birth certificate, which is information maintained by provinces, or with citizenship and immigration cards, which is information held by the federal government, she said.

    While Cavoukian put the blame for not sharing information on the federal government, NDP critic Cheri DiNovo said the province was also at fault.

    "It takes two to tango," DiNovo said, adding that this is just the latest example of the Liberals not being able to work with Ottawa in the best interests of Ontarians.

    In her annual report, Cavoukian also expressed concerns with police refusing to share with families personal information about their loved ones who have died. "Some police forces are ignoring new sections of Ontario's freedom of information and privacy laws that now allow the police to disclose, in compassionate circumstances, the personal information of someone who has just died ... to a spouse or close family members," she said.

    Her office has dealt with nine cases – and has 14 more pending – where families have been denied access to information, including photographs taken at the scene of a man's suicide and a statement by the roommate of a woman who died suddenly.

    The cases investigated so far involve Toronto, Halton, Durham, Barrie and Ottawa police forces.

    Prior to a provincial law change two years ago, police weren't allowed to disclose information to families because it violated the deceased's right to privacy. The law was changed to help grieving families, she said.

    Despite her concerns in a few areas, it's been a good year for access to information and privacy, Cavoukian said.

    "I have never felt as positive about the future of privacy in Ontario as I do right now," she said.

    This past year, used-goods retailers in Oshawa and Ottawa, which had been collecting personal information from people selling items and transmitting it to the police, were forced to stop.

    In previous reports, Cavoukian has urged the government not to hide behind possible exemptions and to release as much information as possible and be especially open about government spending. That is starting to happen, she said.

    At One University, Tobacco Money Is a Secret

    May 22, 2008
    At One University, Tobacco Money Is a Secret

    A public university has a contract with a company that bars professors from publishing studies without consent.


    On campuses nationwide, professors and administrators have passionately debated whether their universities should accept money for research from tobacco companies. But not at Virginia Commonwealth University, a public institution in Richmond, Va.That is largely because hardly any faculty members or students there know that there is something to debate — a contract with extremely restrictive terms that the university signed in 2006 to do research for Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company and a unit of Altria Group.The contract bars professors from publishing the results of their studies, or even talking about them, without Philip Morris's permission. If "a third party," including news organizations, asks about the agreement, university officials have to decline to comment and tell the company. Nearly all patent and other intellectual property rights go to the company, not the university or its professors."There is restrictive language in here," said Francis L. Macrina, Virginia Commonwealth's vice president for research, who acknowledged that many of the provisions violated the university's guidelines for industry-sponsored research. "In the end, it was language we thought we could agree to. It's a balancing act."But the contract, a copy of which The New York Times obtained under the Virginia Freedom of Information law, is highly unusual and raises questions about how far universities will go in search of scarce research dollars to enhance their standing. It also brings a new dimension to the already divisive debate on many campuses over whether it is appropriate for universities to accept tobacco money for research.Dr. Macrina would not specify how much money Philip Morris gave for the restricted research. Historically, the company has not been a major contributor to the university. Last year, it gave $1.3 million in research grants that included the restricted contract and a more traditional independent grant, Dr. Macrina said.Over all last year, Virginia Commonwealth, with nearly 32,000 students, received $227 million in research grants from government and private sources, a sum dwarfed by the amounts the nation's largest research universities take in. For example, the University of Washington received $1 billion in grants last year, while Johns Hopkins got $1.4 billion in federal money alone.Philip Morris, based in Richmond, is a likely source for Virginia Commonwealth in its hunt for dollars from a finite number of corporations. Among tobacco companies, Philip Morris is the leader in investing in academic research. And for Virginia Commonwealth, expanding ties with its neighbor could produce other benefits like additional grants and support for other university functions.About a dozen researchers and research ethicists from other universities were astonished at the restrictions in the contract, when they were told about it."When universities sign contracts with these covenants, they are basically giving up their ethos, compromising their values as a university," said Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University who is an expert on corporate influence on medical research. "There should be no debate about having a sponsor with control over the publishing of results."Stanton A. Glantz, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine who has lobbied for banning tobacco money on campuses, said, "University administrators who are desperate for money will basically do anything they have to for money."Although Dr. Macrina would not discuss many details of the research, Philip Morris officials were less reticent.Rick Solana, the senior vice president for research and technology, said university scientists were studying how to identify early warning signs of pulmonary disease, and how to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus drained into rivers from processing tobacco leaves.Dr. Solana also said the contract represented a new focus on developing tobacco products with reduced risks, a shift in strategy in underwriting university research that requires more confidentiality to protect the corporation's intellectual property rights. And he said Philip Morris had similar arrangements with other universities — although he declined to say how many or which ones.About 15 public health and medical schools no longer accept donations from the tobacco industry, and many major research universities continue to do so only if guaranteed independence to carry out the research and publish the results.The business school at the University of Texas at Austin decided in December to stop accepting tobacco money. The University of California system tightened its oversight of tobacco-financed research last fall, after rejecting a proposal for a ban.Virginia Commonwealth's president, Eugene P. Trani, declined to be interviewed. But Dr. Macrina defended the contract, saying it struck a reasonable balance between the university's need for openness and Philip Morris's need for confidentiality, even though it violated Virginia Commonwealth's own rules."These restrictive clauses seek to protect the rights and interests of multiple parties in the agreement," Dr. Macrina said, pointing out that Virginia Commonwealth scientists would be working with other researchers.Virginia Commonwealth's guidelines for industry-sponsored research state, "University faculty and students must be free to publish their results." The guidelines also say the university must retain all patent and other intellectual property rights from sponsored research.Under the agreement, though, Philip Morris alone decides whether the researchers can publish because the contract defines "without limitation all work product or other material created by V.C.U." as proprietary information belonging to the company."We would have discussions, and there could well be agreements that could ultimately result in the publication of proprietary information," Dr. Macrina said.Dr. Solana agreed, saying that once the company determined that its competitive interests were protected, it could permit researchers to publish."We have to start out with is anyone's intellectual property going to be compromised?" Dr. Solana said. "Once the intellectual property is protected, then it's usually O.K. to publish."Something being proprietary does not mean something cannot be published. We try to be very supportive in the health area of work being published."The contract also includes a longer than usual time for Philip Morris to review any possible publications by the researchers for potential patent or other proprietary problems — 120 days, with the option to continue for 60 days more. Again, this violates university guidelines, which call for reviews of no more than 90 days."When you have multiple parties involved at the level of the sponsor, we're willing to agree to more time than we usually would," Dr. Macrina said.Dr. Macrina also defended the requirement that the university decline comment and tell the company if asked about the agreement by news organizations and other third parties."Language like that occurs in agreements like this because the sponsor wants to be sure there are no slip-ups, that things will not be released inadvertently," he said.Dr. Solana said the prohibition was intended to prevent participants in the research, both at the university or at other companies, from using the relationship with Philip Morris to promote themselves.At Virginia Commonwealth, few professors appeared to know about the contract; when told about it, a number of them said they were concerned about its secretiveness."It's a controversial area, and I personally prefer transparency," said Richard P. Wenzel, chairman of the department of internal medicine at the university's medical school, who had not heard of the contract before a reporter's call.Dan Ream, the president of the Faculty Senate, said he, too, knew nothing about the contract."It hasn't come up as an issue of debate in the Faculty Senate at all," said Mr. Ream, who works in the university's library. "I'm highly committed to open access to information. That's one of the tenets of librarianship."A tenured scientist at Virginia Commonwealth, who would not be interviewed for attribution because he said he feared retribution against his junior colleagues, called the contract's restrictions, especially the limitations on publication, "completely unacceptable in the research world."For most of the decade, Philip Morris financed conventional research grants, using a scientific panel to select worthy research proposals from professors. The company granted independence to the professors whose work it sponsored and left them free to publish.Even so, opponents of smoking opposed the grants, arguing that universities should not take money from tobacco companies because of the public health impact of smoking and what they viewed as the industry's misuse of scientific research.Last fall, Philip Morris began phasing out this program to switch to developing new products, said Dr. Solana, the company vice president. Some of the new research will be conducted internally, he said, at a new company research center in Richmond, and some will be contracted out to universities and corporations case by case.The restricted contract with Virginia Commonwealth, Dr. Solana said, was part of what he hopes will be a new and different relationship between the company and universities. But scientists said such restrictions — especially the constraints on publication and what university officials can say publicly — are contrary to the open discussion essential to university research."It's counter to the entire purpose and rationale of a university," said David Rosner, a professor of public health and history at Columbia University. "It's not a consulting company; it's not just another commercial firm."

    Better access to information, public participation and justice in environmental matters (Malta)

    Better access to information, public participation and justice in environmental matters
    The Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) has joined forces with the Austrian Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt), and the Austrian Society for Environment and Technology (ÖGUT) to embark on a 12-month long project that aims to support the Maltese government in improving implementation of the Aarhus Convention on public access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision making and access to justice in environmental matters.

    The project is co-funded by the EU and the Maltese government under the 2006 Transition Facility Programme for Malta.

    Through the project the legal instruments and institutional arrangements currently in place will be assessed, and recommendations will be drawn up on how to improve the situation with regard to public access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision making and access to justice in environmental matters.

    Any questions regarding the project, its purpose and benefits for stakeholders can be emailed to the project team on Aarhus@

    Should MPs be able to spend taxpayers’ hard-earned money on themselves without saying how they spend it? (UK)

    May 21, 2008

    The Law Explored: MPs' expenses

    Should MPs be able to spend taxpayers' hard-earned money on themselves without saying how they spend it?

    The fact that MPs are lawmakers doesn't license them as lawbreakers. So it's reassuring that the High Court has just ruled against Parliament's attempt to stop the full disclosure of MPs' second-home expenses.

    At the heart of the case is this question: should MPs be able to spend taxpayers' hard-earned money on themselves without saying how they spend it?

    Since 1971, MPs who represent constituencies outside London have been allowed to claim expenses for property to live in while they're on Parliamentary business. This is called an Additional Costs Allowance (ACA). The recent case Corporate Officer of the House of Commons v The Information Commissioner arose because some members of the public tried to use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to get details of the expenditure of 14 MPs but were rebuffed. The Information Tribunal (which adjudicates on freedom of information issues) then ruled that the financial details should be made public. The High Court has just backed that decision.

    The 14 MPs (including Gordon Brown, David Cameron, George Osborne, Margaret Beckett and Mark Oaten) did not personally get involved in the litigation; the case against them disclosing expenditure details of their substantial allowances was championed by a House of Commons official.

    The dispute centres on the core principles of two pieces of legislation. These are the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which gives the democratic right to information held by public authorities, and the Data Protection Act 1998 which protects sensitive personal data. An MP is clearly entitled to privacy on matters such as their health records. But can they say that how they spend large sums of money — such as £40,000 — from the public purse is a private matter?

    In modern Britain, the state comes down hard on anyone who misuses money from the public purse. If you improperly claim £400 from the state you will be in a lot of legal trouble. What about if you claim £40,000? Sir Igor Judge, President of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, noted that there was evidence which suggested that one MP claimed an allowance for "a property which did not exist", and further evidence that could suggest MPs were claiming allowances but letting out the accommodation procured from the allowance.

    Sir Igor Judge said: "We are not here dealing with idle gossip, or public curiosity about what in truth are trivialities." He ruled that the expenditure of public money through the payment of MPs' salaries and allowances "is a matter of direct and reasonable interest to taxpayers". Gravely and aptly, the judge noted that the rules about MPs allowances "bear on public confidence in the operation of our democratic system at its very pinnacle, the House of Commons itself."

    So, what were the arguments put forward by the Corporate Officer of the House of Commons (the Officer) to resist the full disclosure of MPs expenditure? You'll be shocked. The truth is that if these arguments were stripped of legal language and recounted in ordinary phrases over a pub table they'd be seen as comically weak.

    It was argued, for example, that details of the expenses shouldn't be exposed because there would be a fuss in the media and that would distract MPs from their work. Don't bother me with awkward questions about possible wrongdoing, I'm a busy politician.

    It was also argued that requiring the publication of the expenses "would be liable to discourage the most able citizens from seeking election to the House". Why honest citizens would be deterred from standing as MPs just because their housing expenses could be made public wasn't explained by lawyers for the Commons.

    But the oddest reason why it was suggested that disclosure of MPs housing expenses would be unfair was that to do so would contradict "the reasonable expectations of MPs". That argument boiled down to saying "we didn't realise when we applied for these huge sums for housing that we'd ever be expected to disclose the full details".

    In other words, they didn't know how the Freedom of Information Act 2000 works. But how could they not know — the very job for which they were claiming such huge expenses was that of legislator. The Freedom of Information Act is their creation. It was made in their House. They work in the law factory, the House of Commons, and they more than anyone else must be expected to know their own products.

    This isn't a story of judges interfering with the supremacy of Parliament. There is a law to prevent that: the Bill of Rights 1689. That was passed to stop royal power trying to control and intimidate Parliament, and it says that proceedings in Parliament "ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court". But all that the High Court did last week was rule that once an Act has been passed, MPs can't exempt themselves from it. They must comply with the Freedom of Information Act however embarrassing that is for them.

    If it turns out that the MPs who've been hammering chavs for making improper benefits claims have themselves been making less than perfect claims on their own state benefits then they'll have to be judged by that court of ultimate power: the electorate.

    Professor Slapper is Director of the Centre for Law at The Open University

    Freedom of information legislation on way (Isle of Man)

    Freedom of information legislation on way

    A LONG-awaited freedom of information bill will be included in the 2008/09 legislative programme, Chief Minister Tony Brown told Tynwald.
    He said the government's strategic plan included a commitment to provide the public with a statutory right to access government information.

    An Access to Information bill was currently being drafted and would be introduced to the House of Keys in 2008/09.

    Peter Karran (LibVan, Onchan) asked Mr Brown to ensure it was introduced 'sooner rather than later'.

    But the Chief Minister replied that new legislation wasn't in fact needed to give out information the public had the right to see, adding: 'As far as I'm concerned my administration has been open as any, if not more open.'

    The full article contains 127 words and appears in n/a newspaper.
    Page 1 of 1

    • Last Updated: 21 May 2008 10:34 AM
    • Source: n/a
    • Location: Isle of Man

    Major advances made in Access and Privacy, says Commissioner Ann Cavoukian

    Major advances made in Access and Privacy, says Commissioner Ann Cavoukian

        TORONTO, May 21 /CNW/ - Court rulings, key decisions by her office and other developments all helped to make 2007 a year of significant progress in advancing both freedom of information and protection of privacy, Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian said today, as she released her 2007 Annual Report.     "I have never felt as positive about the future of privacy in Ontario as I do right now," said the Commissioner. "And there have been some very important advances related to access to government-held information."      PRIVACY PROTECTION      <<     Among the positive developments she cites related to privacy protection:      -   A key court ruling and subsequent ground-breaking order the         Commissioner issued that addressed the same core issue - that the         collection of extensive personal information from individuals whose         only wish was to sell one or more second-hand items to a used-goods         store should not end up in police files.          -  In July, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down a City of Oshawa            bylaw that had required used-goods retailers to collect extensive            personal information from people who wanted to sell second-hand            items to used-goods stores. This personal information was then to            be transmitted to, and stored centrally in, a police database -            without any restrictions on its use or any judicial oversight.          -  Two months later, following an investigation into a privacy            complaint received by her office, the Commissioner invoked - for            the first time in the 20-year history of her office - the power to            order an institution to cease the collection of personal            information and to destroy collections of information collected            previously. She ordered the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Police            to stop collecting extensive personal information from individuals            selling used goods to second-hand stores and to destroy personal            information already collected (with limited exceptions).      -   A ruling by Justice Edward Belobaba of the Ontario Superior Court of         Justice that sections of the Adoption Information Disclosure Act         breached the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. "As the Court         noted," said the Commissioner, "the Charter, '... is intended         primarily to protect individuals and minorities against the excesses         of the majority,' and, accordingly, in this case, the Charter         protected the minority who wished to preserve their privacy. I want         to emphasize the significance of one of the statements in that Court         decision:             'People expect, and are entitled to expect, that the government            will not share their confidential or personal information without            their consent. The protection of privacy is undeniably a            fundamental value in Canadian society.'"          "It is of critical importance," said the Commissioner, "that we never         forget the Court's words, '... privacy is undeniably a fundamental         value in Canadian society,' because privacy forms the very         underpinning of liberty - the very foundation upon which our freedoms         are built."      -   Positive steps were also taken in the development of "transformative         technologies" - a new term for privacy-enhancing technologies applied         to technologies of surveillance. For example, the Ontario Lottery and         Gaming Corporation is evaluating facial biometrics for its "self-         exclusion" program, under which some gamblers seek the OLG's         assistance in barring them from gambling in casinos operated by the         OLG. Under a contract with the OLG, a University of Toronto team has         been researching novel Biometric Encryption (BE) solutions. The         system attempts to identify the subjects in the self-exclusion         program while protecting the privacy of stored personal information.         This information can be accessed only if a correct biometric,         i.e. the facial image of a self-excluded person, is presented. In         other words, the personal information is in effect "encrypted" with         the person's biometric - extremely privacy protective.      ACCESS IMPLICATIONS      Among the positive developments in 2007 related to freedom of information were several pivotal court rulings. These included:      -   A very significant ruling by Ontario's Divisional Court which upheld         two decisions made by the Commissioner's office on the application of         the solicitor-client exemption to legal fees. "This ruling was a         strong endorsement of our approach to the disclosure of legal fee         information and underscores our consistent message that governments         should actively disclose information about the expenditure of public         funds," said the Commissioner.      -   Another key ruling, which applied the Canadian Charter of Rights and         Freedoms, expanded the circumstances under which the public interest         may override certain exemptions to accessing information under the         Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). The         Ontario Court of Appeal, in effect, amended FIPPA in a way that the         IPC had been advocating since 1994, but did not have the authority to         change. Section 23 of FIPPA states that where a "compelling public         interest" in disclosure "clearly outweighs" the purpose of certain         exemptions from the right of access, those exemptions do not apply.         As a result of this decision, the IPC (subject to an appeal the         Supreme Court of Canada will hear this fall) now has the ability to         decide independently whether records subject to the law enforcement         and solicitor-client privilege exemptions should be disclosed in the         public interest.      RECOMMENDATIONS      Among the recommendations the Commissioner makes in her Annual Report:      -   She is urging Ontario to make a privacy-protective electronic health         record a priority.      -   She is calling on the Premier and John Wilkinson, the         Minister of Research and Innovation, to advance the development of         transformative technologies (privacy-enhancing technologies applied         to technologies of surveillance), not only in the area of research,         but particularly in the commercialization of such research to         facilitate its entry into the marketplace.      -   She is urging all police services in Ontario to abide by the law and         give a broad and generous interpretation to recent amendments to the         provincial and municipal freedom of information and protection of         privacy Acts that now allow police to disclose - in compassionate         circumstances - the personal information of someone who has died to         his or her family members.      -   Rather than require individual provinces to build their own extensive         databases of citizenship information from scratch, she is urging the         federal government to make citizenship information available to         provinces that want to provide an enhanced drivers' licence (EDL)         that citizens could use as an alternative to a passport, for the         purpose of crossing the U.S. border.      FOI REQUESTS SET ANOTHER RECORD      Among the statistical information released by the Commissioner:      -   The number of freedom of information requests filed with provincial         or municipal government organizations across Ontario in 2007 - 38,584         - set an all-time high, surpassing the previous record of 36,739, set         in 2006. Much of this increase is due to a jump in the number of         requests filed with municipalities and police services.      -   The number of privacy complaint files opened under the two public         sector privacy Acts - 213 - was the highest in 11 years. (There were         170 privacy complaints in 2006.)      -   And, the number of complaint files opened under the Personal Health         Information Protection Act - 338 - set a record. (The old record was         269 in 2006.) Of the 338 complaint files, 227 were privacy complaints         and 111 were access or correction complaints.     >>      Commissioner Cavoukian's 2007 annual report is available on the IPC's website,      The Information and Privacy Commissioner is appointed by and reports to the Ontario Legislative Assembly, and is independent of the government of the day. The Commissioner's mandate includes overseeing the access and privacy provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Personal Health Information Protection Act, and helping to educate the public about access and privacy issues.    
    For further information: Media Contact: Bob Spence, Communications Co-ordinator, Direct line: (416) 326-3939, Cell phone: (416) 873-9746, Toll free: 1-800-387-0073,

    Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    Accountability and Open Records (Kansas)

    May 20, 2008

    Accountability and Open Records

     kansaseducation @ 9:19 am

    The demand for accountability from public officials is rising across the country. A number of states have already put their spending–or at least some of it–online. (See, for example, the Nevada Open Government Initiative).

    Without transparency, citizens cannot know if government agencies are doing their jobs well–or if corruption is taking place.

    It does take some cost to be transparent. It take staff time to assemble records, for example, and make them in a format that is widely accessible.

    But who should bear the cost? Too often, it's individual taxpayers, who may be scared off by quotes for excessive charges under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

    Bob Weeks, the blogger behind Wichita Liberty, recently tried to get budget information from USD 259 Wichita (see here), with less than assuring results. He points to the example of a school district in exurban Chicago as a model for disclosure.

    A group in Michigan has put together some online databases for school districts in that state. Kansans would benefit if someone put together a similar, publicly available source of information.


    Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    Swan denies blocking FOI request (Aus)

    Swan denies blocking FOI request

    Posted Sun May 4, 2008 6:01pm AEST
    Updated Sun May 4, 2008 6:05pm AEST

    Not me: The Treasurer has blamed his department for blocking a request under Freedom of Information laws. (File photo)

    Not me: The Treasurer has blamed his department for blocking a request under Freedom of Information laws. (File photo) (ABC News: Damien Larkins)

    Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan has distanced himself from his department's decision to reject a Freedom of Information (FOI) request on the impact of Labor's workplace laws.

    The Government last week blocked the release of Treasury advice on whether its industrial relations policies will push up inflation.

    The FOI request was made by the ABC.

    Mr Swan says a decision to release only limited information was made by a bureaucrat.

    "Those decisions are taken by decision-makers in the department, not by me as the Minister," he said.

    "But I don't think the ABC or any other media organisation would want Wayne Swan as the Minister going into the department and telling them what they should release, or not release, under the current law."

    Scottish Government aims to improve citizens' access to information

    Scottish Government aims to improve citizens' access to information

    Articles / Central Government   Date: May 19, 2008 - 07:50 AM
    Measures have been announced in the Scottish Parliament to help improve the public's "right to know".

    Scottish Government First Minister used his Parliamentary Statement - Moving Scotland Forward - to announce the beginning of a pilot scheme within one area of the Scottish Government, the effect of which will be to substantially increase the proactive publication of Scottish Government information.

    Minister for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford hailed the announcement to improve public access to Scottish Government information as "great news for those who, like the Government, support the public's right to know".

    Mr Crawford said:
    "We are fully committed to greater transparency within public bodies - and we believe the Government should lead by example.

    "Last October we announced the six principles that underpin our approach to Freedom of Information - guided by our commitment to make publicly available as much information as possible without having to be asked for it.

    "We are committed to a change in culture from one of perceived secrecy to one of being open and accountable to the Scottish people. We want people to be able to see how we do what we do.

    "Today's announcement is great news for those who, like the Government, support the public's right to know.

    "Open government is good government - and we will continue in the direction of greater open-ness."

    The pilot of proactive publication referred to by the First Minister will take place across the Environment portfolio and will start shortly. It will see information published at least three months after creation and will substantially increase the amount of non-exempt information of "corporate value" (ie forming part of the record of the work of government) made available proactively.

    Whilst the clear aim is to ensure substantial increase in the amount of information provided it would not be right to publish all information - for instance it would be necessary to adequately protect against the release of, for example, personal data and commercially sensitive information.

    The pilot will be taken forward as a formal programme with a programme board.

    This article comes from

    The URL for this story is:

    Freedom of Information Bill Saga - Information is Power (Nigeria)

    Freedom of Information Bill Saga - Information is Power

    Vanguard (Lagos)

    14 May 2008
    Posted to the web 14 May 2008

    By Ladipo Adamolekun

    The major explanation for the tortuous journey of Nigeria's Freedom of Information (FoI) bill since 1999 is the often forgotten truism that information is power, because persons in power in all polities tend to be unwilling to share it, especially with an amorphous and unpredictable public.

    The history of FoI laws/acts in many countries is characterized by delays of varying duration (for example, in Britain and Japan).

    However, once the legislation is introduced, it invariably gets adopted in the majority of cases, even if enforcement is delayed or abridged through inadequate budgetary provision to cover the cost of making information available to the public.

    The half-dozen or so African countries that already have FoI laws include South Africa (2000), Angola (2005) and Uganda (2005).

    Nigeria's FoI bill 1999-2008

    First introduced in 1999, Nigeria's FoI bill was raised in the lower chamber of the National Assembly (NASS) for the sixth time in early May 2008 and promptly withdrawn - ostensibly because the Representative (Rep) to move it was absent.

    While the bill only managed to pass through the House in the 1999-2003 NASS, it was adopted by both chambers of the 2003-2007 NASS and sent to the President in March 2007 for his assent.

    The reservations that led the former president to withhold his assent were only made public at a time when NASS could no longer make amendments. Considering the significant number of bills that the executive pressed on NASS to pass and which received presidential assent between March and May 2007, it is arguable that FoI bill failed to become law on purpose. And the purpose was the reluctance to share power with the public

    While the incumbent president has publicly declared his willingness to assent to a FoI bill adopted by NASS, the current delay is on the side of the Senators and Reps.

    For starters, NASS president, Senator Mark, would like representatives of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) to meet with him to discuss the problem of "quacks" in the media before he would support the adoption of the FoI bill. This nonsensical "conditionality" is another variation on the theme of reluctance to share power.

    In the meantime, the bill that passed through the House in the two preceding NASS is facing new obstacles. When the bill was thrown out on April 29, some Reps argued that new members in the House (over 80 percent of total membership) need to study its contents and some others were of the view that the object of the bill should be included among the amendments to be proposed to the 1999 Constitution.

    Since the bill was already available in the House, any interested new Rep could have obtained a copy to study before April 29.

    The second excuse does not make sense because after, public access to government information would have been enshrined in the Constitution, there would still be need for a FoI law that would spell out its intendment and scope as well as the methods of enforcement. Again, the naysayers are only reluctant to share power!

    The case for FoI

    The main justifications for a FoI law in Nigeria are the same as in both old and new democracies. FoI laws grant and protect citizens' access to government information.

    They are critical to the role of the media and watchdog-oriented civil society organizations in promoting both greater accountability and transparency and quality service delivery.

    It is also true that citizens' access to public services is enhanced in contexts where FoI laws are enforced - citizens would know what services are available and where to request for them.

    In particular, FoI law is widely acknowledged as a useful tool in the fight against corruption. The Newspapers Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN) made the point cogently in its reaction to the April 29th House vote against the FoI bill:

    "Today, Nigerians do not and cannot know what degree of mismanagement, misappropriation and outright graft may be going on, even now at various tiers and branches of government and they may have to wait another four or even eight years when the tenure of this administration will end..."

    Let me end with a personal experience. In 2006, I needed to consult the reports of the Public Accounts Committees in the two chambers of NASS as part of the preparation for an invited lecture.

    The reports were denied by the secretariats of the two Committees, even though a senior staff of NASS's library physically went to request for them.

    With the FoI law in place, the officials would not dare to deny me or any one else access to the reports.

    Next steps

    FoI proponents in NASS:

    It would make sense for the FoI proponents in NASS to quickly agree on the few changes that need to be made to the bill in its current form. The following are my observations on a few areas of controversy that have been highlighted in the press:

    Item: The former president's quibble about the bill's title is unimportant: "Freedom of Information" or

    "Right to Information". FoI is the more widely used title and it should be maintained.

    Item: The Section of the bill on refusal to disclose information on grounds of being "injurious to the conduct of international affairs or the defense of the Federal Republic of Nigeria" can be amended to include "security", immediately after "defense" as requested by the former president.

    Item: The former president wanted the following provision in the bill dropped: the courts' power to override refusal by a head of government or a public institution to disclose information.

    Keeping this provision in the bill will be consistent with Nigeria's ambition to be a law-based state. And it is a provision that is found in the majority of FoIs - it gives real teeth to them. The incumbent president, who likes to swear by the rule of law, is unlikely to have a problem with it.

    FoI supporters in the media and civil society: The media need to use their capacity to both bark and bite on this subject. The barking of the NPAN, the Guild of Editors and the NUJ following the recent backsliding on the bill is appropriate and need to be sustained.

    But the print and electronic media would also need to consider how best to collectively use their capacity to bite to focus the attention of NASS leadership and members on the FoI until it is passed.

    The civil society groups that provided invaluable inputs into the preparation of the FoI bill in 1999 should work with its proponents in NASS to effect the few necessary changes to the bill and continue to pressure for its passage in the two chambers.

    Update on soldiers and Nigeria's underdevelopment (Nigeria Notes, December 12, 2007)

    I would like to praise General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd) for his honesty and forthrightness in acknowledging that three decades of military dictatorship in Nigeria failed to deliver "the much-needed development and transformation" (news reports, May 7, 2008).

    And he was correct to generalize the verdict for military dictatorships in the entire African continent. I listened to General Alani Akinrinade make the same honest admission in respect of the Nigerian experience at a chance meeting in 1998.

    The other brass hats who ruled or served in key positions during the three decades of military dictatorship should make their positions known to the Nigerian public - over to you Obasanjo, Buhari, IBB, Abdusalami et al.

    'Freedom of information is like right to enjoy food'

    'Freedom of information is like right to enjoy food'


    KUALA LUMPUR: Information dissemination to society cannot be controlled as it is a right to free flow of information, says Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek. He said openness in channelling information is akin to the people's right to enjoy food.

    "If you limit their food intake, they will starve. There are good and bad food, so people have to evaluate and make choices for their own well-being.

    "In the context of current information technology advancement, openness should not be feared as a free media will not necessarily have disastrous effects on a party or ruling government," he said after delivering a public lecture on "New Challenges in Managing Media and Information in Malaysia" here yesterday.

    "For example, in Sabah, the media has more liberty, but the ruling party still won a majority of seats in the general election."

    He also reminded on the need for such openness to be implemented gradually to prevent society from getting a cultural shock.

    He said the openness should make the government more responsible and conscientious in convincing the people that they had made the right choice, besides educating them on the importance of choosing sound and suitable information.

    Ahmad Shabery said the ministry itself had started to be more open and had invited the alternative media to participate in interview programmes, while the choice of news was based on the value and not the people behind the news.

    He said the openness in channelling information was more evident now with the government expanding the broadband capacity.

    "This means that in principle, the government has allowed and facilitated free information flow, whereas in some countries there is a total clamp.

    On complaints from the alternative media of their not being able to get media accreditation cards to enable them to cover parliament sittings, he said the matter would be looked into. - Bernama


    Freedom of information law soon: Secretary

    Freedom of information law soon: Secretary
    Jalilur Rehman
    LAHORE: Federal Information Secretary Muhammad Akram Shaheedi has said that the media and the democracy are inevitable for each other and the government would take all necessary steps to ensure freedom of the press. He said that the federal government would introduce the new freedom of information law soon after it was approved by the cabinet.

    He was talking to journalists here on Monday at a local hotel. He said that the government will formulate a code of conduct soon after consulting all stakeholders. CPNE President Arif Nizami and Majeebur Rehman Shami also spoke on the occasion and hailed the induction of Shaheedi as the federal secretary information.

    He said his minister was mere a facilitator and had not any regulatory role. He maintained that the government had scrapped all previous Pemra laws and was preparing a bill adding the new law will replace the old law that about which the media men had expressed many reservations. He thanked journalists of the print and electronic media for attending his luncheon and said their reunion was a matter of pride for him. Muhammad Akram Shaheedi told he had been called back to Islamabad from Washington and taken as the secretary information. He said all this was due to the love the Lahori journalists had for him adding Lahore was his hometown.

    He said in a democratic system the role of media is very important and the present government was committed to ensuring freedom of the press. He said the present government had scrapped old Pemra laws and had tabled a new bill which was still to become law of the land. He reminded that the present regime had provided all freedom to media and that was why all the anchor persons had returned to their channels and telecasting their views and programmes accordingly. He said there were 60/70 television channels and the people were enjoying good competition among them. He said he was of the view that both the media and the democracy were interlinked.

    Referring to the Code of Conduct for the media, Shaheedi said the government was in contact with all the relevant stakeholders and pointed out that the media men had expressed their various reservations on the old Freedom of Information Act 2002 which according to him had many lacunas. He said in the previous Freedom of Information Act the government functionaries were supposed to supply information to the media men but this law became ineffective as the spokesman or concerned representatives of the governmental departments were not in a position to supply necessary information to the media men as early as possible or as per expectation of the journalists/reporters thus this factor alone made it infructuous.

    President CPNE Arif Nizami while welcoming his appointment as federal secretary information said the Geo private television had made a serious complaint of its victimization and that in case they did not change their policy about lawyers' ongoing movement for restoration of the deposed judges their telecast may be banned again. He further said that it was wrong that the federal information ministry had not regulatory role and it was only a facilitator between media and the government. Nizami said the present regime had not yet withdrawn some measures that had been taken against print media whereas all the offending steps taken against electronic media had been recalled or withdrawn by the present government.