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Freedom of Information Laws and Policies: Other Countries.
Research Materials.
Freedom of information legislation Compilation
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Notes for academic purposes by Jeremy Lewis, PhD, revised 16 Apr. 2005.
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    Nearly sixty countries around the world have implemented some form of freedom of information legislation, which sets rules on governmental secrecy. Over forty more countries are working towards introducing such laws.

    1 Some countries with existing legislation

    1.1 Australia
    1.2 Canada
    1.3 Finland
    1.4 France
    1.4.1 External links
    1.5 Germany
    1.6 Ireland
    1.7 Norway
    1.8 South Africa
    1.9 Sweden
    1.10 United Kingdom
    2 Implementing the act
    3 Rights under the act
    4 Unusual features
    5 Further reading
    6 External links
    6.1 United States
    7 Countries with pending legislation
    8 See also
    9 External links

    Some countries with existing legislation


    In Australia, the Freedom of Information Act was passed at the federal level in 1982, followed later by equivalent legislation in the states and territories.


    In Canada, the Access to Information Act allows citizens to demand records from federal bodies. This is enforced by the Information Commissioner of Canada. There is also a complimentary Privacy Act, introduced in 1983. The purpose of the Privacy Act is to extend the present laws of Canada that protect the privacy of individuals with respect to personal information about themselves held by a federal government institution and that provide individuals with a right of access to that information. It is a Crown copyright. Complaints for possible violations of the Act may be reported to the privacy commissioner of Canada.

    Provinces and territories of Canada may also have legislation governing access to government information. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act applies to the province of Ontario's provincial ministries and agencies, boards and most commissions, as well as community colleges and district health councils. In Quebec the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information governs access to government information. Currently, only Prince Edward Island has no access or privacy legislation in force.



    In France, the accountability of public servants is a constitutional right, according to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

    The Law of July 17, 1978 sets as a general rule that citizens can demand a copy of any administrative document (in paper, digitized or other form). The commission of access to administrative documents (CADA), an independent administrative authority, may help in the process. Regulations specify maximal fees of reproduction. Only final versions, not work documents, may be requested. There exist a number of exemptions:

        * Documents established in the process of justice.
        * Documents of cases before the national ombudsman.
        * Documents carrying an appreciation or judgment over a named or easily identifiable person, or containing private information of that person (such as medical records), when the person requesting the document is not the person described in the document or, in some cases, from his or her family; such documents may often still be obtained after the names of the persons involved are erased;
        * Documents for which that are already available to the public (for instance, publishing in the Journal Officiel).
        * Documents with secrets regarding national defense or national foreign policy (though they may often be communicated after erasure of certain passages).
        * Internal deliberations of the national executive.
        * Documents from fiscal, customs, criminal enquiries.

    Certain exempted documents may still be available according to other statutes. For instance, some tax-related informations about any taxpayer are available to any other taxpayer from the same tax district.

    CADA does not have the power to order administrations to surrender documents, though it may strongly incite them to do so. However, citizens can challenge the refusal of the administration before the administrative courts (i.e. courts hearing recourses against the executive). Unfatanetely, these courts are farely overbooked, and a citizen often wait several years to have his rights examinated in a fair trial. France were declared guilty by European Court of Human Rights for excessive delays (more than 10 years) many times.

    External links

        * CADA's official site ( (in French)


    In Germany there are four "Bundesländer" with an "Informations-Freiheits-Gesetz", see [1] (


    The Irish Freedom of Information Act came into effect in April, 1998. The Act has led to a sea-change in the relationship between the citizen, journalists, government departments and public bodies. There are very few restrictions on the information that can be made public. A notable feature is the presumption that anything not restricted by the Act is accessible. In this regard it is a much more liberal Act than the UK Act. Decisions of public bodies in relation to requests for information may be reviewed by the Information Commissioner.

    One particular controversy which has caused concern to journalists and historians is that traditionally government ministers would annotate and sign any major policy or report documents which they had seen however this practice has fallen out of favour because of the new openess. This annotation and signing of documents has often given a paper trail and unique insight asto "what the minister knew" about a controversy or how they formed an opinion on a matter. Whilst this information would not often be released, and sometimes only under he thirty year rule, the fact that government ministers now do not annotate and sign documents creates the concerns that whilst government is open it is not accountable as to who did or saw what or how decision making process works.


    South Africa

    South Africa passed the Promotion of Access to Information Act on 2 February 2000. It is intended "To give effect to the constitutional right of access to any information held by the State and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights"; the right of access to privately held information is an interesting feature, as most freedom of information laws only cover governmental bodies.


    In Sweden, the fundamental law of 1766 concerning Freedom of Press granted public access to government documents. It is thus a fundamental part of the Swedish Constitution. In Swedish this is known as Offentlighetsprincipen (The Principle of Publicity), and has been valid since.

    United Kingdom

    Main article: Freedom of Information Act (United Kingdom)
    Freedom of Information logo

    The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (2000 c. 36) is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United Kingdom on a national level. It is an Act of Parliament that introduces a public "right to know" in relation to public bodies. The act implements a manifesto commitment of the Labour Party in the 1997 general election. The final version of the act is believed to have been diluted from that proposed while Labour was in opposition. The full provisions of the act came into force on 1 January 2005. The act itself is Crown copyright but can be found at the Web site of the Stationery Office.

    The act is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor's Department (now renamed the Department for Constitutional Affairs). The act led to the renaming of the Data Protection Commissioner (set up to administer the Data Protection Act), who is now known as the Information Commissioner). The Office of the Information Commissioner will oversee the operation of the act when it comes into force.

    A second Freedom of Information law is in existence in the UK; the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (2002 asp 13) was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2002, to cover public bodies over which the Holyrood parliament, rather than Westminister, has jurisdiction. For these institutions, it fulfills the same purpose as the 2000 Act.

    Implementing the act

    This Act affects over 100,000 public bodies including Government Departments, Schools and Councils.

    Recent media reports suggest that the Government have sought to delete documents prior to the act coming into force on January 1st, 2005. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has said that some public bodies are less prepared for this Act than others.

    Rights under the act

    The act creates a general right of access, on request, to information held by public authorities (Schedule 1 of the act sets out a long list of the authorities covered by the act). However, there are numerous exemptions. Some of these are absolute; some are qualified, which means the public authority has to decide whether the public interest in disclosing the relevant information outweighs the public interest in maintaining the exemption. An applicant for information who considers that a request has been wrongly rejected may apply to the Information Commissioner, who has the power to order disclosure. However, such orders can be appealed to a specialist tribunal (the Information Tribunal) and in some circumstances the Government has the power to override orders of the Information Commissioner.

    Unusual features

    Three features of the UK Freedom of Information Act deserve special mention, as they differ from the position in many other countries.

       1. Requests by individuals for access to their own personal information will fall outside the act, and will continue to be dealt with under the Data Protection Act 1998.
       2. Requests for information about matters concerning the environment are dealt with by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. Those regulations, while similar to the FOIA do differ in a number of ways.
       3. There is no procedure whereby third parties can challenge a decision by a public authority to disclose information: for instance, if a commercial organisation provides information to a public authority, and the authority discloses that information in response to a FOI Act request, the commercial organisation has no right of appeal against that decision. By contrast, "reverse FOI" applications of this type are common in the U.S.

    Further reading

        * The Law of Freedom of Information (MacDonald, Jones et al.: OUP 2003)
        * Information Rights (Coppel at al.: Sweet and Maxwell 2004)

    External links

        * Stationery Office text of the Freedom of Information 2000 Act (
        * Information Commissioner's explanation (
        * Official website from the ( Department for Constitutional Affairs
        * Open Government: a Journal on Freedom of Information. ( An open access e-journal, containing peer reviewed research and commentary on FOI worldwide and in the UK.
        * Freedom of Information Act Blog ( (maintained by Steve Wood, Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University)
        * Your right to know ( (BBC, 16 December 2004)

    United States

    Main article: Freedom of Information Act (United States)

    In the United States the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966 and went into effect the following year. The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments were signed by President Bill Clinton on October 2, 1996.

    The FOIA applies only to federal agencies. Some of the states have enacted similar statutes to require disclosures by agencies of the state and of local governments, such as the Freedom of Information Law in New York (sections 84-90 of the Public Officers Law (

    Countries with pending legislation

    See also

        * Sunshine law
        * Conflict of interest

    External links

        * International survey of FOI laws (
        * Map of the world with FOI (
        * Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act ( by the United States Congress Committee on Government Reform.
        * International Freedom of Expression eXchange (
        * Open Government: a Journal on Freedom of Information. ( An open access e-journal, containing peer reviewed research and commentary on FOI worldwide and in the UK.