Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama Memo on the Freedom of Information Act

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 21:  U.S. President Barac...Image by Getty Images via Daylife


SUBJECT: Freedom of Information Act

A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.

I direct the Attorney General to issue new guidelines governing the FOIA to the heads of executive departments and agencies, reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency, and to publish such guidelines in the Federal Register. In doing so, the Attorney General should review FOIA reports produced by the agencies under Executive Order 13392 of December 14, 2005. I also direct the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to update guidance to the agencies to increase and improve information dissemination to the public, including through the use of new technologies, and to publish such guidance in the Federal Register.

This memorandum does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.


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Open Letter by Members of Global Openness Community welcoming President Obama's Initiative on Transparency

"Open Letter by Members of Global Openness Community welcoming President Obama's Initiative on Transparency"

The undersigned organizations, which work around the world to promote the right of access to information, welcome the steps taken by President Barack Obama on his first day in office to reverse recent trends and to promote high standards of openness in government. We particularly welcome the call for a clear presumption in favor of disclosure of information, so that "in the face of doubt, openness prevails". We also welcome the inclusion, within this presumption, of an affirmative obligation on public bodies to disclose information rapidly and in forms that the public can readily find and use. Proactive disclosure is recognized internationally as an essential element of the right of access to information, along with the right to request and receive information.

President Obama has demonstrated global leadership on this issue, signaling the fundamental importance of open government in a democracy. We call on governments around the world to take similar action to promote transparency and respect for the right of access to information.

We also urge President Obama to ensure that his executive orders are given full effect, in accordance with their language and purpose. Ensuring strong implementation of these standards will set a high benchmark to inspire governments around the world.

Yours sincerely,

Access Info Europe, Helen Darbishire, Executive Director (Spain)
Access to Information Programme, Gergana Jouleva, Executive Director (Bulgaria)
Ad IDEM/Canadian Media Lawyers Association, Paul Schabas, President (Canada)
American Civil Liberties Union
, Caroline Fredrickson, Washington Legislative Office, Director (USA)
Arab Freedom of Information Network, Said Essoulami, Executive Director
ARTICLE 19, Toby Mendel, Senior Legal Counsel
Asociación por los Derechos Civiles, Roberto Saba, Executive Director (Argentina)
Association for Freedom of Thoughts and Expression, Mohamed Omran (Egypt)
Bank Information Center, Chad Dobson, Executive Director (USA)
BilgiEdinmeHakki.Org, Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, Director (Turkey)Campaign for Freedom of Information, Maurice Frankel, Director (UK)
Carter Center, Laura Neuman, Associate Director and Access to Information Project Manager (USA)Center for Development and Democratization of Institutions, Ilir Aliaj, Executive Director (Albania)
Center for Independent Journalism, Ioana Avadani, Executive Director (Romania)
Center for Promotion of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Vasile Spinei, President (Moldova)
Center of Access to Public Information, Edison Lanza, Director (Uruguay)
Centre for Media Freedom Middle East and North Africa, Said Essoulami, Executive Director
DELNA - Transparency International Latvia, Inese Voika, President (Latvia)Due Process of Law Foundation, Eduardo Bertoni, Executive Director
Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director (USA)
Foundation Open Society Institute, Dance Danilovska, Project Coordinator (Macedonia)Freedom Forum, Santosh Sigdel, Executive Director (Nepal)
Freedom of Information Center of Armenia, Shushan Doydoyan, President (Armenia)
Freedom of Information Coalition, Edetaen Ojo, Coordinator (Nigeria)
Freedom of Information Coalition, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, Executive Director (Sierra Leone)
Fund for an Open Society, Miodrag Milosavljevic, Project Coordinator (Serbia)
Fundacion Pro Acceso, Moisés Sánchez, Executive Director (Chile)
Fundar, Miguel Pulido Jiménez, Coordinator (México)GYLA, Tamar Gurchiani, Project Coordinator (Georgia)
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Balázs Dénes, Executive Director (Hungary)
Information Commissioner of Republic of Slovenia, Natasa Pirc, Information Commissioner (Slovenia)Institute for Information Freedom Development in Russia, Ivan Pavlov, Lawyer and Chairman (Russia)
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, Andrés Mejía (Colombia)
Jamaicans for Justice, Carolyn Gomes, Executive Director (Jamaica)
Media Institute of Southern Africa, Sampa Kangwa-Wilkie, Program Specialist (Southern African Region)
Media Rights Agenda, Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director (Nigeria)
Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel, Roy Peled, Executive Director (Israel)
National Freedom of Information Coalition, Charles Davis, Executive Director (USA)
National Security Archive, Tom Blanton, Director (USA)
New York State Committee on Open Government, Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director (USA)
Open Society Institute, Aryeh Neier, President (USA)Poder Ciudadano – Transparency International, Laura Alonso, Executive Director (Argentina)
Pro Media, Klime Babunski (Macedonia)PROETICA – Transparency International, Cecilia Blondet, Executive Director (Peru)
PROVIDUS, Linda Austere, Policy Researcher (Latvia)
Public Citizen, Adina Rosenbaum, Attorney (USA)
Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia, Darce Fardy, President (Canada)
Society for Democratic Initiatives, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, Executive Director (Sierra Leone)
Statewatch, Tony Bunyan, Director
Sunshine Week, Debra Gersh Hernandez, Coordinator (USA)
Sustentia, Carlos Cordero, Executive Director (Spain)The Canadian Association of Professional Access and Privacy Administrators, Sharon Polsky, National Chair (Canada)
Transparency International – Secretariat, Andrea Figari, Global Programmes Manager (Germany)
Transparency International Anti-corruption Center, Amalia Kostanyan, Chairwoman (Armenia)
Transparency International Croatia, Zorislav Antun Petrovićc, President (Croatia)Transparency International Israel, Galia Sagi, CEO (Israel)
Transparency International Russia, Marina Savintseva, Programme Co-ordinator (Russia)
Transparency International Slovakia, Emilia Beblava, President (Slovakia)
Transparency Serbia, Program Director, Nemanja Nenadic, (Serbia)
Wobbing Europe, Brigitte Alfter, Editor (Europe)
Youth Initiative for Human Rights, Sarah Maliqi, Executive Director (Kosovo)
Francesca Fanucci, International Human Rights Lawyer
John Edwards, FOI Advocate (New Zealand)
Natalia Torres, MSc Public Policy (Argentina)Ricardo Corcuera, Legal Advisor in Human Rights (Perú)
Richard Calland, Programme Director: Economic Governance, Idasa (South Africa)
Roger Vleugels, Lecturer and Legal Advisor FOIA (The Netherlands)
Susanne Tam, Ethics Consultant, (Israel)
Walter Keim (Norway)

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Canada's cult of secrecy

Stephen Harper gives a victory speech to party...Image via Wikipedia

Canada's cult of secrecy

Harder than ever to get information from the federal government

Last Updated: 26th January 2009, 4:26am

As to highlight tomorrow's budget in Canada, President Barack Obama has coincidentally drawn attention to Canada's penchant for secrecy.

By making "openness" and "transparency" a cornerstone of his presidency, he's drawn attention to Canada's lack of same.

Not since the advent of the Access to Information Act (ATIA) in 1983, has it been so difficult to get timely information from the Canadian government.


A challenge for Harper is to follow Obama's lead for more open government.


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Canada: Privacy Commissioner Orders Release of Camera Manuals

Canada: Privacy Commissioner Orders Release of Camera Manuals
Edmonton, Canada police lose a near three-year battle to conceal red light camera manuals from the public.

Manuals governing the operation and calibration of red light camera systems must be released to the public following a ruling issued earlier this month by Alberta, Canada's Office of The Information and Privacy Commissioner. The decision handed down by Adjudicator Teresa Cunningham put an end to a nearly three-year attempt by the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) to conceal the documents from a resident who used freedom of information laws to request records "relating to the operation of red light cameras."

Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), the private company that operated the cameras for Edmonton in return for a share of the profits, specifically refused to allow police to hand over Instruction Manuals IM-E0207 and IM-E0306, claiming these documents were protected by a confidentiality and copyright agreement with Gatsometer BV, the Dutch manufacturer of the automated ticketing hardware.

"To my knowledge any information provided by ACS or Gatsometer BV to the EPS would have been done pursuant to a contractual relationship and provided in confidence," an EPS affidavit explained.

The adjudicator seized on the phrase "would have been" to conclude that the department was speculating and did not have a concrete contractual provision stating the document must be kept confidential. Because ACS failed to produce sufficient evidence to prove that the company took the confidentiality requirement seriously, it was not exempt from the freedom of information law.

"I am not satisfied that there was ever an explicit agreement between ACS and EPS to maintain confidentiality of the manual," the adjudicator wrote. "The technical information in the manual is about installing, setting up, calibrating, and using equipment -- information one would also expect to find in a user's manual that is not intended to be confidential."

ACS also argued that disclosure of the manuals would reveal important trade secrets, including allowing competitors to determine its current pricing structure. The adjudicator rejected this argument as implausible because the red light cameras in question were developed in 1996 and the manual itself dated 2002. The commissioner suggested a competitor in 2009 was unlikely to improve its technology by looking at the operations manual for a thirteen-year-old machine. The adjudicator cited a UK ruling to dispense with the argument that placing a copyright notice on the manuals prohibited public access to the information.

"The fact that information may be someone's intellectual property does not of itself preclude its legitimate availability to others," the Information Commissioner of the United Kingdom ruled. "Just as library books may be protected by copyright, their public availability is not restricted because of that status."

The resident who made the original request for the manuals sought information that could have been useful in fighting red light camera tickets. EPS did not argue that its true motivation was to thwart challenges to its ticketing program.

"For the reasons above, I find that disclosure of the manual could not reasonably be expected to result in significant harm to the competitive position of ACS or Gatsometer," the adjudicator ruled. "I order the public body to disclose the records at issue to the applicant."

EPS must immediately hand over the manuals to requesting parties and must give evidence to the privacy commissioner by March 3, 2009 that it has complied with the directive. A copy of the ruling is available in a 110k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Order F2008-018 (Alberta, Canada Information and Privacy Commissioner, 1/12/2009)

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Shine light on wheels of power

Shine light on wheels of power
Ross Fitzgerald | January 26, 2009
Article from: The Australian

WHILE others fight the economic wildfire, Special Minister of State Senator John Faulkner, is paving the way for substantial freedom of information and electoral reforms, which as part of our right to know would be welcome gifts to Australia. They would make the work of the Australian Government and political parties less covert and mark a huge cultural change in public administration via increased transparency and accountability.The Australian House of RepresentativesImage via Wikipedia

After the troublesome nature of the last few Howard years and systemic problems in several ALP state governments, these days public trust in government is a rare commodity.

In his quest to restore such trust, this year Faulkner not only intends to rewrite the Freedom of Information Act to free up government information, he has indicated that he also wants to change key elements of Australia's electoral system.

It's difficult to tell which is the tougher task.

Fundamental FOI reform will change the modus operandi of bureaucracy and media. Electoral reform will change the way our democracy operates. Resistance to these reforms will almost certainly be strong and often subterranean. While we are unlikely to see anyone bagging transparency and accountability in public, behind the scenes there will be considerable resistance.

The Rudd Government Federal Labor leader Kevin RuddKevin Rudd: Image via Wikipediawill release a draft FOI Bill for public comment in the first half of this year. The legislation will be compared with Queensland Premier Anna Bligh'Anna Bligh - 070507 Labor Day March and Rally,...Anna Bligh:Image by Brisbane Blog Is Against Censorship via Flickrs proposed root and branch reforms of the state's public information regime. Lawyer and journalist David Solomon examined the Queensland Government's information arrangements and went through them like Drano. Unusually, the Queensland Government seems to have accepted almost all of his recommendations.

FULL ARTICLE: /story/0,25197,24961776-7583,00.html
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bill Gives People The Right To Know (Moscow Times)

The Russian State Duma, Moscow, RussiaImage via Wikipedia Bill Gives People The Right To Know
21 January 2009
By Anna Malpas / Staff Writer

The State Duma on Wednesday is to consider in a third and final reading a bill spelling out citizens' right to gain access to government documents and outlining punishments for officials who do not comply. The bill, comparable to freedom of information laws in other countries, would require officials to disclose, upon request, any information controlled by the government -- such as court rulings, budget expenditures and government permits -- that has not been deemed a state secret. The authors of the bill and transparency campaigners said the law could be a powerful tool for citizens in dealing with the country's notoriously reticent bureaucracy and its firm grip on information that, by law, should be in the public domain. "We consider this to be a very positive law that will reduce corruption at all levels and will increase people's trust in the authorities," Valery Komissarov, head of the Duma's Information Policy Committee and one of the bill's authors, told The Moscow Times in an interview Tuesday. The law, which would require federal, regional and municipal officials to respond to citizens' requests for information within 30 days, would reduce corruption by empowering people to ask questions about how budgetary funds are spent, said Komissarov, a deputy with United Russia. Bureaucrats will have more difficulties trying to "pull the wool over people's eyes," he said. While various existing laws oblige officials to disclose information about the government's activities to their employers -- taxpayers -- the bill attempts to spell out in a single law citizens' right to know, as well as punishments for bureaucrats who refuse to cooperate.



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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government

Seal of the United States Office of Management...Image via WikipediaTHE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 21, 2009


SUBJECT: Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote
efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public
can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify
information of greatest use to the public.

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to
participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.

Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of more Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. Executive
departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.

I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) IMG_7004Image by dbking via Flickrand the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that
instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.


# # #

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Details of MPs' expenses could still be exempted from FoI Act

Details of MPs' expenses could still be exempted from FoI Act

Both Labour and the Conservatives decline to rule out a future move to keep some aspects of MPs' claims secret

Labour and the Tories left the door open today for a future move to exempt the full details of MPs expenses from the Freedom of InformationAct.

Gordon Brown waUnited Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer Gor...Image via Wikipedias yesterday forced to withdraw plans to keep details of individual spending secret after the Conservatives made a late decision not to back the plans. In a debate today, Harriet Harman, the leader of the house, repeatedly declined to rule out new restrictions in the future, while Alan Duncan, the shadow leader of the house, indicated that if new measures to strengthen audits of MPs' claims worked, he might be in favour of dropping the call for the release of every receipt over £25.

Harman's silence on the issue came as she confirmed that 1.2m receipts detailing MPs' expenses going back to 2004 would be published once they had been processed by House of Commons authorities, at a cost of £2m.

She told MPs: "The house authorities will comply with all the requests that they have and I think there are some 180 in the pipeline."

But individual receipts would not form part of a new regime for MPs' expenses, which Harman said would prevent abuse and assure constituents that "public money is being properly spent".

Wistful HarrietImage by Steve Punter via FlickrHer proposals, agreed by the Commons yesterday, extend the automatic reporting of MPs' expenses from 14 to 26 categories, including revealing for the first time the annual cost of rent and mortgage interest payments on MPs' second homes.

There will also be an updated version of the Green Book, which sets out rules for claiming expenses, a requirement for MPs to be subject to a "robust independent audit", and a new committee on members' allowances, which will meet in public and have an opposition majority.

She said full disclosure might continue to happen, particularly if journalists and the public continued to put in FoI requests, which would mean that all 646 MPs would have to disclose information at that level.

"We are not bound to do just the minimum of what we think the law requires.



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Canadian PM urged to loosen info secrecy

Stephen Harper SideImage by thivierr via Flickr

Canadian PM urged to loosen info secrecy

OTTAWA, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Canada's federal information commissioner is urging the prime minister to allow more transparency as ordered by new U.S. President Barack Obama.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Information Commissioner Robert Marleau praised Obama's declaration of more openness on his first day in office.

"I am thrilled to see that Mr. Obama is taking such a forceful position in the context of transparency," Marleau said. "I'm jealous, yes. Given that the president will meet Mr. Harper in the near future, I hope that they will talk about it and that the president of the United States can be an example for our own political leader."

While Obama said "transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency," Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is known in Ottawa to keep a tight rein on what his ministers and members say in public.

Marleau told the Globe Canada is moving in the opposite direction of Obama as far as transparency.

"The fog is thickening," Marleau said. "Things are clearly going backwards in the amount of information that is being released, and there is a clear increase in the use of time extensions and exemptions."

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Opening government on Day One

Barack Obama celebrations at the White HouseImage by Kevglobal via Flickr

Opening government on Day One

Keywords: Barack Obama; FOIA; FOIA enforcement; FOIA reform; open meetings; Open Records

President Barack Obama, on his first full day in office, sent a strong message of his intention to run a transparent government, directing agencies to release information to the public when possible and rolling out a new White House Web site geared toward communication and transparency.

· Facebook
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Obama issued two presidential memos -- one on Transparency and Open Government and another specifically on the Freedom of Information Act -- instructing federal government agencies to operate under principles of openness and transparency.

In this announcement at his first White House press conference, Obama committed to changing the course of the previous White House policy that asked federal government agencies to find ways under the law to keep information from getting out to the public. He instructed the attorney general to provide official guidance to agencies on implementing this policy change within 120 days.

The new also discusses Obama's commitment to making his administration "the most open and transparent in history," and various means of communicating information to the public.

That this message was issued on Day One is a huge step toward opening access to the federal government. And it is crucial that this message came from the very top. However, the public will need to be no less diligent in utilizing the laws to request information and continuing to hold this new administration accountable just as any other.

Corinna Zarek, 3:36 pm

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Obama issues orders and memoranda on ethics, transparency

Barack Obama speaking in Houston, Texas on the...Image via Wikipedia

Obama issues orders and memoranda on ethics, transparency

President Barack Obama today issued executive orders and memorandums designed to improve government ethics and make the government more open.

Obama signed an executive order designed to change presidential record-keeping along with another order that sets new ethics restrictions for political appointees and lobbyists.

“I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of openness,” Obama said during a meeting with senior administration staff. “Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

The order on presidential records “ends the practice of having others besides the president assert executive privilege for records after an administration ends," the White House officials said in a statement. Now, only the president will have that power, limiting its potential for abuse." The also order requires the attorney general and the White House counsel to review claims of executive privilege related to covered records.

Obama also ordered all of his political appointees to sign a pledge restricting their interactions with lobbyists and their ability to rotate employment between goverment and industry.

According to a press statement, Obama instructed officials to draft an open government directive within 120 days that will be used to implement specific principles of the memo. He also instructed the attorney general to issue new guidelines related to the Freedom of Information Act.

Obama also said he will freeze the pay of his White House senior staff members at current levels, signing a memorandum to keep his senior staff from receiving pay raises to the extent allowed by law, according to the statement.

“The president and his staff recognize that in these austere times, everyone must do more with less, and the White House is no exception,” the statement said, adding that the action would let the White House stretch its budget to get more done.

The freeze applies to staff members making $100,000 and above, according to a senior aide quoted by a published pool report.

bout the Authors

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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[foianet]Pending the Russian FOI Law in 2009

Dmitry Medvedev - Russia CEO Roundtable 2008Image by World Economic Forum via FlickrSent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 10:05 AM
Subject: Re: [foianet]Pending the Russian FOI Law in 2009

Hello to everyone!

It's really looks like in 2009 year Russia will have Freedom of Information Law as last!
On January 21, 2009 the State Duma (lower chamber of the Russian Parliament) adopted in a final third reading access to information bill in the framework of anti-corruption russian program. Bill on Providing of Access to Information on State Authorities and Local Governments Activity (Access to Information Bill or Freedom of Information Bill) will provide citizen's right to know through the duty of federal, regional and municipal officials to disclose any information (except classified information) upon citizen's request and also by publication information on State and Local Authorities activity in mass media and via Internet.
The FOI Law will require officials to respond citizen's request for information within 30 days and will give some other ways for access to information such as informational stands in the federal, regional and municipal authorities' buildings, libraries, archives and federal, regional and municipal authorities meetings where citizens will able to be. The Law will take into effect on January 1, 2010 if President Dmitry Medvedev will sign the Law.
Indeed that will be the huge event for Russia!

Marina Savintseva
TR-Russia, Moscow
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Obama on Restoring Public Trust

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Governments in Canada playing games with public’s right to know

You Have the Right To KnowImage by myrcell via FlickrFreedom of information
Governments in Canada playing games with public’s right to know

Canadians looking for a thrill have a new game to play. It’s called freedom of information roulette and it’s playing at a government near you.

Depending on which government you ask, you can get information on police use of Tasers, what bureaucrats are telling ministers about a carbon tax, and how much your city pays to different vendors for goods and services.

Or you can’t.

The latest Canadian Newspaper Association audit of government openness found that access to important information varies dramatically across Canada. When we sent identical requests for the same information, the responses ranged from quick release outside formal channels all the way to enormous fee demands nobody could reasonably be expected to pay.

And that’s a problem for us all because when the door to basic information is locked, we’re on the way to closing the door on democracy.


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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From foinet UK: Campaign welcomes decision to shelve "improper" attempt to conceal MPs' expenses

Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 12:48 PM
Subject: [foianet] UK: Campaign welcomes decision to shelve "improper" attempt to conceal MPs' expenses

Dear all,

This is to let you know the good news that the UK Government has announced that it is shelving its proposal to exclude MPs' and peers' expenses from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. The Campaign's press release responding to the announcement is below.

A parliamentary briefing by the Campaign is available here, though the debate that was due to take place on Thursday will not take place. For full background on the proposal, our webpage has collected comment and press coverage.

Best wishes

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UK's Brown backs down in MPs expenses row: transparency wins

The gates at the entrance to Downing StreetImage via Wikipedia

Brown backs down in expenses row

The government has shelved plans to prevent the publication of more details of MPs' expenses.

Downing Street had indicated Labour MPs would be required to support proposals exempting such information from Freedom of Information laws.

But a planned House of Commons vote has now been dropped after opposition parties refused to back the government.

The Conservatives accused ministers of a "u-turn" while the Lib Dems said it was a "humiliating climbdown".

Long-running case

The row over expenses followed a long-running Freedom of Information case in which campaigners sought to get details of MPs' expenses, which totalled £87.6m in 2006-7, published.

Last year the High Court ordered the Commons authorities to publish details, including all receipts, to back up claims made by 14 MPs under their second homes allowance.

It had been expected that all MPs' expenses details would then be published but Commons leader Harriet Harman told MPs last week the government was bringing forward a plan to exempt MPs' expenses from the scope of the FOI Act.

This would have seen expenses published under 26 headings but not the details of claims for individual items.

Downing Street had indicated that Labour MPs would be expected to support this policy in a vote on Thursday but the Conservatives and Lib Dems said they would oppose the move.

However, shortly after the end of prime minister's questions, the government revealed the vote on the FOI proposal would not take place.

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said the move would be seen as a "screeching u-turn" by the government.

Ms Harman said the vote had been abandoned because of the "lack of cross-party support" and confirmed she would hold further discussions on how to proceed.


"If passed, this order would have had a catastrophic impact on the reputation of Parliament," said Peter Facey, director of the pressure group Unlock Democracy.

"We now call on the parliamentary authorities to publish MPs expenses at the earliest opportunity."


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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Protests grow over MP expense bid (UK)

Protests grow over MP expense bid
By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Campaigners have called on MPs to "stand up and be counted" against a potential rule change exempting them from Freedom of Information laws.

MPs are due to vote this week on the new rules, which would allow them to keep their expense details secret.

Now opponents have launched an online campaign, urging voters to put pressure on their local MPs to oppose the move.

By Monday afternoon an estimated 1,000 e-mails had been sent and organisers are confident the total will grow.

The e-mails were in response to an appeal earlier in the day from - a website with 75,000 subscribers that campaigns for more openness in politics.

In 2007 the group played a role in defeating a similar move by MPs to exempt themselves from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

The group says widespread opposition to the plans might convince MPs to vote against them.

MySociety director Tom Steinberg told the BBC: "We are a strictly non-partisan group, but we are using the internet... to spread the word that this exemption is unacceptable."


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Monday, January 19, 2009

FoI campaigners condemn MPs bid to hide expenses

FoI campaigners condemn MPs' bid to hide expenses

British House of CommonsImage via Wikipedia

15 January 2009
By PA Mediapoint, Press Gazette reporters

The Government has been accused of "disgraceful" behaviour after another bid was launched to sidestep a ruling ordering publication of details of MPs' expenses under Freedom of Information law.
The Commons authorities have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds scanning and redacting about a million receipts from claims since losing a lengthy FoI battle last May.
But none of them will be released under plans set out by Leader of the House Harriet Harman LONDON - JULY 30:  Deputy leader of the Labour...Image by Getty Images via Daylifethis afternoon.
Instead, the law will be changed retrospectively so that MPs' expenses are published annually under 26 categories, rather than the current 13.
"The public will have more information than they ever have before and we will take it back to 2005 so that for all members, each year their allowances against 26 headings will be made public," Harman told the Commons.
A spokesman for the Commons leader confirmed that if parliament approved the measures, the receipts would not be published - although the Information Tribunal and High Court had ordered that they should be.
But the House authorities said the process of redaction would continue at least until the proposals were passed.
Matthew Elliott of the TaxPayers' Alliance said: "It is an absolute disgrace that the Government are going to such absurd lengths to keep MPs' expenses secret from the very people who pay the bills.
"This is taxpayers' money, these are elected representatives and the people have a right to know how their money is being spent.
"These desperate measures will only harm Parliament's standing by making people wonder what it is that politicians have to hide."

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