Sunshine Week: Worldwide, Nations Use U.S. As Model for FOI Laws

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(AP) More than 50 countries have adopted laws facilitating access to government records and information, according to a comprehensive survey released last May.

Laws vary from country to country in their breadth, adequacy, and effectiveness, since exemptions and poor implementation can badly harm their usefulness. While most freedom of information laws have resulted in increased openness, some nations impose tight access restrictions.

Guarantees to freedom of information have existed for hundreds of years. The world’s first information access law was Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act in 1766, and France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man said individuals had the right to obtain information about the budget.

More than half of the current laws have been approved in the last decade, as a result of increased international, economic, and societal pressures to increase transparency in government. According to the Freedominfo.org Global Survey, many countries have modeled their freedom of information laws after those of the United States, Australia, and Canada.

Some highlights of the FOI laws in those countries and a list of other nations with such legislation:

United States

? Freedom of Information Act enacted in 1966 and implemented in 1967; amended in 1996 by the Electronic Freedom of Information Act.

? Any person or organization, regardless of citizenship or country of origin, may request records held by agencies of the federal government. Requests to Congress, the courts, the president’s immediate White House staff, and the National Security Council are excluded. Agencies are required to respond in 20 working days.

? More than 3.2 million FOIA/Privacy Act requests were received by all federal entities in fiscal year 2003, an increase of nearly 36 percent from the previous year, and the greatest one-year increase ever.

Australia

? Freedom of Information Act 1982 established rights of access to materials held by Commonwealth agencies. Agencies must respond within 30 days.

? 42,627 FOI access requests were received between July 2003 and last June, a 2.8 percent increase over the prior year. Through June, more than 685,000 access requests had been submitted since the act’s implementation.

? The Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000 affords individuals the right to request personal records held by private entities.

Canada

? 1983 Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, a companion law. Amended by the Terrorism Act in November 2001.

? Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and corporations can request and obtain materials held by government entities. Individuals can access and correct personal records held by federal agencies. Institution must reply in 15 days.

? Almost 23,000 ATIA and nearly 38,000 Privacy Act requests were received in 2002-03.

Other nations with freedom of information laws

Albania (enacted 1999); Armenia (2003); Austria (1987); Belgium (1994); Belize (1994); Bosnia and Herzegovina (2000; Republika Srpska, 2001); Bulgaria (2000); Colombia (1888, 1985); Croatia (2003); Czech Republic (1999); Denmark (1865, 1964); Estonia (2000); Finland (1951); France (1978); Georgia (1999); Greece (1999); Hungary (1992); Iceland (1996); India (2003); Ireland (1997); Israel (1998); Italy (1990); Jamaica (2002); Japan (1999); Kosovo (2003); Latvia (1998); Liechtenstein (1999); Lithuania (2000); Mexico (2002); Moldova (2000); Netherlands (1978); New Zealand (1982); Norway (1970); Pakistan (2002); Panama (2002); Peru(2002); Poland (2001); Portugal (1993); Romania (2001); Slovakia (2000); Slovenia (2003); South Africa (2000); South Korea (1996); Spain (1992); Sweden (1766,1949); Tajikistan (2002); Thailand (1997); Turkey (2003); Trinidad and Tobago (1999); Ukraine (1992); United Kingdom (2000; Scotland 2002); Uzbekistan (2002); Zimbabwe (2002).

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