Freedom of information legislation, also described as open records or (especially in the United States) sunshine laws, are laws which set rules on access to information or records held by government bodies. In general, such laws define a legal process by which government information is required to be available to the public. In many countries there are constitutional guarantees for the right of access to information, but usually these are unused if specific legislation to support them does not exist.
Over 70 countries around the world have implemented some form of such legislation. Sweden's Freedom of the Press Act of 1766 is thought to be the oldest.
Other countries are working towards introducing such laws, and many regions of countries with national legislation have local laws. For example, all states of the United States have laws governing access to public documents of state and local taxing entities, in addition to that country's Freedom of Information Act which governs records management of documents in the possession of the federal government.
A related concept is open meetings legislation, which allows access to government meetings, not just to the records of them. In many countries, privacy or data protection laws may be part of the freedom of information legislation; the concepts are often closely tied together in political discourse.
A basic principle behind most freedom of information legislation is that the burden of proof falls on the body asked for information, not the person asking for it. The requester does not usually have to give an explanation for their request, but if the information is not disclosed a valid reason has to be given.
Some countries with existing legislation
, the constitution of 1998 guarantees the right of access to information; the legislation supporting this is the Ligji nr. 8503, date 30.6.1999, Per të drejten e informimit per dokumentat zyrtare
(Law no. 8503, dated June 30 1999, On the right to information over the official documents
). This requires public authorities to grant any request for an official document.
The Law on Freedom of Information was unanimously approved by the Parliament on 23 September 2003 and went into force in November 2003.
, the Freedom of Information Act 1982
was passed at the federal level in 1982
, applying to all "ministers, departments and public authorities" of the Commonwealth.
There is similar legislation in all states and territories:
- Australian Capital Territory, the Freedom of Information Act 1989
- New South Wales, the Freedom of Information Act 1989
- Northern Territory, the Information Act 2003
- Queensland, the Freedom of Information Act 1992
- South Australia, the Freedom of Information Act 1991
- Tasmania, the Freedom of Information Act 1991
- Victoria, the Freedom of Information Act 1982
- Western Australia, the Freedom of Information Act 1992
, a freedom of information law was approved in 2005. It has gone into effect.
Article 32 of the Constitution was amended in 1993 to include a right of access to documents held by the government.
, the Freedom of Information Act
was passed in 2000
and is currently in force, though a governmental commission noted that "not much use has been made of the Act".
Bosnia and Herzegovina
In Bosnia and Herzegovina
, Freedom of Access to Information Act
was adopted by the Parliament Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 17 November 2000. Both federal entities - the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina - passed freedom of information laws in 2001
, the Freedom of Access to Information Act for the Republika Srpska
and Freedom of Access to Information Act for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina
, the Article 5, XXXIII, of the Constitution sets that "everyone shall have the right to receive information of his own interest or of public interest from public entities, which shall be given within the time prescribed by law". Also, article 22 of the Federal law nº 8.159/1991 grants the right to "full access to public documents".
There is not, however, any law specifying the manner and the timetable for the information to be given by the State.
, the Access to Public Information Act
was passed in 2000
, following a 1996
recommendation from the Constitutional Court to implement such a law.
, 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 complementary 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
Canadian access to information laws distinguish between access to records generally and access to records that contain personal information about the person making the request. Subject to exceptions, individuals have a right of access to records that contain their own personal information under the Privacy Act but the general public does not have a right of access to records that contain personal information about others under the Access to Information Act.
Each province and territory in Canada has its own access to information legislation. in many cases, this is also the provincial public sector privacy legislation. For example:
From 1989 to 2008, requests made to the federal government were catalogued in the Coordination of Access to Information Requests System.
In Chile, there is a constitutional provision for the freedom of information and new law has been approved on August 11th 2008.
In April 2007, the State Council of the People's Republic of China
promulgated the "Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Open Government Information" (中华人民共和国政府信息公开条例), which came into effect on May 1st
, 2008. However, the law has done very little to provide information on many of the Chinese government's practices.
constitution grants the right of access to public information through Law 57 of 1985
which thereby mandates the publishing of acts and official documents. This is implemented and applies to documents that belong to official facilities (offices or the like). Additionally there is the anti corruption statement of Law 190 of 1955
also known as anticorruption act
which in its 51st article mandates public offices to list in visible area all the contracts and purchases made by month. The latter taking place slowly.
, the Zakon O Pravu Na Pristup Informacijama
(Act on the Right of Access to Information
) of 2003
extends to all public authorities.
In the Czech Republic
, the Zákon č. 106/1999 Sb., o svobodném přístupu k informacím
(Act No. 106/1999 Coll. on Free Access to Information
) covers the "state agencies, territorial self-administration authorities and public institutions managing public funds" as well as any body authorised by the law to reach legal decisions relating to the public sector, to the extend of such authorisation.
, the Access to Public Administration Files Act
applies to most public agencies, and an unusual clause extends coverage to most private or public energy suppliers.
Hipólito Mejía approved Ley No.200-04 - Ley General de Libre Acceso a la Información Pública
(Law number 200-04 - Law on Access to Information
) on 28 July 2004, which allows public access to information from the government and private organizations that receive public money to conduct state business. Rough drafts and projects that are not part of an administrative procedure are not included.
, the Transparency and Access to Information Law
declares that the right of access to information is guaranteed by the state.
, the Public Information Act
extends to all "holders of information", which is clarified as being all government and local government bodies, legal persons in public law
and legal persons
in private law if they are performing public duties (providing health, education etc).
In matters concerning the local, national and transboundary environment, the Aarhus convention
grants the public rights regarding access to information, public participation and access to justice in governmental decision-making processes. It focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities.
Regulation 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents grants a right of access to documents of the three institutions to any Union citizen and to any natural or legal person residing, or having its registered office, in a Member State. "Document" is defined broadly and it is assumed that all documents, even if classified, may be subject to right of access unless it falls under one of the exceptions. If access is refused, the applicant is allowed a confirmatory request. A complaint against a refusal can be made with the European Ombudsman and/or an appeal can be brought before the Court of First Instance.
In addition, the Directive 2003/98/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 17 November 2003 on the re-use of public sector information sets out the rules and practices for accessing public sector information resources for further exploitation.
Since 2008, the European Commission operates the Register of Interest representatives, a voluntary register of lobbyists at the European union: https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/transparency/regrin/
, the Laki yleisten asiakirjain julkisuudesta 9.2.1951/83
(Act on the Openness of Public Documents
) established the openness of all records and documents in the possession of officials of the state, municipalities, and registered religious communities. Exceptions to the basic principle could only be made by law, or by an executive order for specific enumerated reasons such as national security. The openness of unsigned draft documents was not mandated, but up to the consideration of the public official. This weakness of the law was removed when the law was revised in the 1990s. The revised law, the Laki viranomaisten toiminnan julkisuudesta 21.5.1999/621
(Act on the Openness of Government Activities
), also extended the principle of openness to corporations that perform legally mandated public duties, such as pension funds and public utilities, and to computer documents.
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 implementing legislation is the Loi n°78-753 du 17 juillet 1978 portant diverses mesures d'amélioration des relations entre l'administration et le public et diverses dispositions d'ordre administratif, social et fiscal (Act No. 78-753 of 17 July 1978. On various measures for improved relations between the Civil Service and the public and on various arrangements of administrative, social and fiscal nature). It sets as a general rule that citizens can demand a copy of any administrative document (in paper, digitized or other form), and establishes the Commission d’Accès aux Documents Administratifs, an independent administrative authority, to oversee the process.
, the General Administrative Code contains a Law on Freedom of Information
In Germany, the federal government passed a freedom of information law in 2005. Nine of the sixteen Bundesländer — Berlin, Brandenburg, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saarland and Thüringen — have approved individual "Informationsfreiheitsgesetze" (Freedom of Information laws).
In Greece, article 16 (Right to Access Administrative Documents — Δικαίωμα γνώσης διοικητικών εγγράφων) of Law 1599/1986 (State-citizenry Relationship — Σχέσεις Κράτους-πολίτη) introduced the right of all citizens to read most administrative documents. This right is now codified as article 5 (Access to documents — Πρόσβαση σε έγγραφα) of the Administrative Procedural Code (Κώδικας Διοικητικής Διαδικασίας), Law 2690/1999. Under this article, citizens have a right to know the content of administrative documents. Administrative documents are defined as those produced by public sector entities, such as reports, studies, minutes, statistical data, circulars, instructions, responses, consultatory responses, and decisions. In addition, citizens with a legitimate interest may also access private documents stored by public services. The right cannot be exercised if the document concerns the private or family lives of others, or if the document's confidentiality is safeguarded by specific legal provisions. Furthermore, the public body can refuse access if the document refers to discussions in the Cabinet, or if accessing the document can seriously hamper criminal or administrative violation investigations carried out by judicial, police, or military authorities.
Citizens may study the documents at the place where they are archived, or they may obtain a copy at their own cost. Access to one's own medical data is provided with the help of a doctor. Access to documents should take into account whether they be covered by copyright, patent, or trade secret regulations.
In addition, Law 3448/2006, on the reuse of public sector information, harmonizes the national laws with the requirements on the European Union Directive 2003/98/EC.
In Hong Kong
there are no laws specifically enacted to guarantee the freedom of information.
Since March 1995, the Government of Hong Kong has promulgated a "Code on Access to Information" to serve a similar purpose. This code, like other internal regulations of the Government, was not legislated by the Legislative Council and a has minimal legal status. It requires government agencies listed in its appendix to appoint Access to Information Officers to answer citizens' requests for governmental records. A fee maybe charged prior to the release of information.
In Hungary, the Act on the Protection of Personal Data and Public Access to Data of Public Interest extends a right of access to all data of public interest, defined as any information processed by a body performing a governmental function. Complaints and contested applications may be appealed to the Data Protection Commissioner or to the court.
In 2005 the Parliament adopted the Act on the Freedom of Information by Electronic Means (Act XC of 2005). The Act has three basic parts: 1. electronic disclousure of certain data by public sector bodies, 2. publicity of legislation and 3. openness of Court decisions.
the Information Act (Upplysingalög) Act no. 50/1996 gives access to public information.
The Indian Right to Information Act
(RTI Act) was introduced to the Indian Parliament
in July 2000. It came into effect on 12 Oct 2005. Supreme Court of India had, in several Judgments prior to enactment of RTI Act, interpreted Indian Constitution to read Right to Information as the Fundamental Right as embodied in Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression and also in Right to Life. RTI Act laid down a procedure to guarantee this right. Under this law all Government Bodies or Government funded agencies have to designate a Public Information Officer (PIO). The PIO's responsibility is to ensure that information requested is disclosed to the petitioner within 30 days or within 48 hours in case of information concerning the life and liberty of a person. The law was inspired by previous legislation from select states (among them Maharastra
etc) that allowed the right to information (to different degrees) to citizens about activities of any State Government body.
A number of high profile disclosures revealed corruption in various government schemes such scams in Public Distribution Systems (ration stores), disaster relief, construction of highways etc. The law itself has been hailed as a landmark in India's drive towards more openness and accountability.
However the RTI India has certain weaknesses that hamper implementation. There have been questions on the lack of speedy appeal to non-compliance to requests. The lack of a central PIO makes it difficult to pin-point the correct PIO to approach for requests. The PIO, being an officer of the relevant Government institution, may have a vested interest in not disclosing damaging information on activities of his/her Institution, This therefore creates a conflict of interest. In the state of Maharastra it was estimated that only 30% of the requests are actually realized under the Maharashtra Right to Information act. The law does not allow disclosure of information that affects national security, defence, and other matters that are deemed of national interest.
the Freedom of Information Act 1997 came into effect in April, 1998
. The 1997 Act was subsequently amended by the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act 2003
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 openness. This annotation and signing of documents has often given a paper trail and unique insight as to "what the minister knew" about a controversy or how he or she formed an opinion on a matter. Also civil and public servants have become more informal, in keeping written records of potentially controversial meeting and avoiding writing memos as a result. While this information would not often be released, and sometimes only under the thirty year rule, the fact that government ministers now do not annotate and sign documents creates the concerns that while government is open it is not accountable as to who did or saw what or how decision making process works.
, the Freedom of Information Law, 5758-1998, supported by the Freedom of Information Regulations, 5759-1999, controls freedom of information. It defines the bodies subject to the legislation by a set of listed categories - essentially, most public bodies - and provides for the government to publish a list of all affected bodies. However, this list does not seem to have been made publicly available, if indeed it was ever compiled. Many public bodies are not obliged to follow the law, which limits the potential for use by the public.
The Israeli Freedom of Information Law has actually achieved the opposite intended result. Government agencies now take the position that a citizen may only request information via FOIL, ie an official letter designated as such and including the (approx.) $22 fee. Thus an Israeli citizen in many cases cannot simply write a letter asking a question, and can be asked to file a FOIL application with a fee and wait the minimum statutory 30 days for a reply, which the agency can easily extend to 60 days. In many cases FOIL letters are simply ignored, or some laconic response is sent stating the request is either unclear, unspecific, too vague or some other legalese, anything in order to keep the information away from the public. When the 60 days are up, the anticipated result usually yield nothing significant, and the applicant must petition the District Court to compel disclosure, a procedure that requires attorneys to draft pleadings and a payment a (approx.) $420 court fee. A judgement in such FOIL appeals in Israel can take years, and again the agency can easily avoid disclosure by simply not complying. There are no real sanctions for non-compliance. While there are rare successes in Courts compelling Israeli government agencies to disclose information, they are usually in non-controversial areas such as harmless civil matters. The law provides for the expected "security" exemption and an applicant applying for such information can expect not to benefit from FOIL (and also have his or her court appeal rejected). Applicants can be greatly helped by The Movement for Freedom of Information.
Chapter V of Law No. 241 of 7 August 1990 provides for access to administrative documents. However, the right to access is limited. The law states that those requesting information must have a legal interest. The 1992 regulations require "a personal concrete interest to safeguard in legally relevant situations." The courts have ruled that this includes the right of environmental groups and local councilors to demand information on behalf of those they represent. It was amended in 2005. The revision appears to adopt the court rulings and relax the interest somewhat to allow access when an individual can show they represent a more general public interest.
In Jamaica, the relevant legislation is the Access to Information Act, 2002
, "Law Concerning Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs"(行政機関の保有する情報の公開に関する法律) was promulgated in 1999. The law was enforced in 2001.
In many local governments, it establishes the regulations about information disclosure(情報公開条例) from the latter half of 1980's.
The Constitution of Latvia states: "Article 104. Everyone has the right to address submissions to State or local government institutions and to receive a materially responsive reply."
The Law on Freedom of Information was signed into law by the State President in November 1998 and has been amended a number of times recently. Any person can ask for information in "any technically feasible form" without having to show a reason. The request can be oral or written. Bodies must respond in 15 days.
Article 16 of the Constitution of Macedonia guarantees "access to information and the freedom of reception and transmission of information".
The Law on Free Access to Information of Public Character was adopted on 25 January 2006. It is scheduled to go into force in September 2006.The law allows any natural or legal person to obtain information from state and municipal bodies and natural and legal persons who are performing public functions. The requests can be oral, written or electronic. Requests must be responded to in 10 days.
The Constitution was amended in 1977 to include a right of freedom of information. Article 6 says in part, "the right of information shall be guaranteed by the state." The Supreme Court made a number of decisions further enhancing that right.
The Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Public Government Information was unanimously approved by Parliament in April 2002 and signed by President Fox in June 2002. It went into effect in June 2003.
A freedom of information law was passed in Montenegro late in 2005
, after a process of several years.
Article 110 of the Constitution states:
"In the exercise of their duties government bodies shall observe the principle of transparency in accordance with rules to be prescribed by Act of Parliament."
Freedom of information legislation was first adopted in 1978. The Government Information (Public Access) Act (WOB) replaced the original law in 1991. Under the Act, any person can demand information related to an administrative matter if it is contained in documents held by public authorities or companies carrying out work for a public authority. The request can either be written or oral. The authority has two weeks to respond.
In New Zealand, the relevant legislation is the Official Information Act 1982
. This implemented a general policy of openness regarding official documents and replaced the Official Secrets Act.
The Freedom of Information Act of 19 June 1970
is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in Norway
on a national level. Article 100 of the Constitution gives access to public documents.
President Pervez Musharraf
promulgated the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 in October 2002. The law allows any citizen access to public records held by a public body of the federal government including ministries, departments, boards, councils, courts and tribunals. It does not apply to government owned corporations or provincial governments. The bodies must respond within 21 days.
, a law protects habeas data
, meaning that any citizen can request a copy of publicly or privately held information relating to him, and request that any inaccurate data found be destroyed . This has been primarily used by former dissidents after the fall of the lengthy dictatorship (1954-1989) of Alfredo Stroessner
. In 2005, efforts have been made to add transparency to purchases made by the Government, with a system that publishes bids on the Web, as well as the resulting purchases.
Article 61 of the Constitution provides for the right to information and mandates that Parliament enact a law setting out this right.
The Law on Access to Public Information was approved in September 2001 and went into effect in January 2002.(The Act allows anyone to demand access to public information, public data and public assets held by public bodies, private bodies that exercise public tasks, trade unions and political parties. The requests can be oral or written. The bodies must respond within 14 days.
Republic of Moldova
Article 34 of the Constitution provides for a right of access to information.
The Law of the Republic of Moldova on Access to Information was approved by Parliament in May 2000 and went into force in August 2000. Under the law, citizens and residents of Moldova can demand information from state institutions, organizations financed by the public budget and individuals and legal entities that provide public services and hold official information.
Since 2001 there is one law on Freedom of Information and one on transparent decision making processes in public
administration (a sunshine law).
In Serbia, the Access to Public Information Act
gives access to documents of public authorities.
Slovakia passed the Freedom of Information Act in May 2000 (Num. law: 211/2000 Z. z.). Under the law, everybody can demand information from state institutions, organizations, from municipalities, individuals and legal entities financed by the public budget.
Slovenia passed the Access to Public Information Act in March 2003. The Act governs the procedure which ensures everyone free access to public information held by state bodies, local government bodies, public agencies, public funds and other entities of public law, public powers holders and public service contractors.
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.
The Constitutional Court ruled in 1989 that there is a constitutional right to information "as an aspect of the right of freedom of expression and specific implementing legislation to define the contours of the right was not a prerequisite to its enforcement."
The Act on Disclosure of Information by Public Agencies was enacted in 1996 and went into effect in January 1998. It allows citizens to demand information held by public agencies.
, the Freedom of the Press Act
granted public access to government documents. It thus became an integral part of the Swedish Constitution
, and the first ever piece of freedom of information legislation in the modern sense. In Swedish
this is known as Offentlighetsprincipen
(The Principle of Public Access), and has been valid since.
The Principle of Public Access means that the general public are to be guaranteed an unimpeded view of activities pursued by the government and local authorities; all documents handled by the authorities are public unless legislation explicitly and specifically states otherwise, and even then each request for potentially sensitive information must be handled individually, and a refusal is subject to appeal. Further, the constitution grants the Right to Inform, meaning that even some (most) types of secret information may be passed on to the press or other media without risk of criminal charges. Instead, investigation of the informer's identity is a criminal offense.
The "The Freedom of Government Information Law" (政府資訊公開法), enacted by the Legislative Yuan
of the Taiwanese government (Republic of China
), has been in force since 28 December 2005.
In Thailand, the relevant legislation is the Official Information Act of 1997
Trinidad and Tobago
In Trinidad and Tobago
, the relevant legislation is the Freedom of Information Act, 1999
, the Turkish Law on the Right to Information
(Bilgi Edinme Hakkı Kanunu) was signed on October 24th, 2003 and it came into effect 6 months later on April 24th, 2004.
- In Uganda, the Access to Information Act was approved in 2005 and went into effect in 2006.
The 1996 Constitution does not include a specific general right of access to information but contains a general right of freedom of collect and disseminate information and rights of access to personal and environmental information.
The 1992 Law on Information is a general information policy framework law that includes a citizen's a right to access information. The law allows citizens and legal entities to request access to official documents. The request can be oral or written. The government body must respond in 10 calendar days and provide the information within a month unless provided by law.
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, with the exception of Scottish bodies, which are covered by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (2002 asp. 13).
In the United States the Freedom of Information Act 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 Act applies only to federal agencies. However, all of the states, as well as the District of Columbia and some territories, have enacted similar statutes to require disclosures by agencies of the state and of local governments, though some are significantly broader than others. Many combine this with Open Meetings legislation, which requires government meetings to be held publicly.
In Zimbabwe, the Access to Information and Privacy Act (AIPPA) was signed by President Mugabe in February 2002.
Countries with pending legislation
- In Argentina, national freedom of information legislation is pending, though some individual regions have legislation on a local level.
- In Bangladesh, the Caretaker Government that assumed power in January 2007 announced in the summer of 2007 that they would implement an RTI Act modeled after the Indian RTI Act of 2005.
- In Botswana, as of 2003, the government was quoted as saying "The Freedom of Information Bill is not a priority for the new ministry, but some activities like information gathering and initial planning will start.
- In the Cayman Islands, the Freedom of Information Regulations Act 2008 is expected to go into effect on January 1, 2009.
- In Fiji, the constitution gives a general right of access, but enabling legislation has not yet been passed. A draft Freedom of Information Bill was circulated in 2000 but derailed by political unrest; the government has not yet begun work on a second bill.
- In Ghana, the Right to Information Bill 2003 was resubmitted to the Cabinet in 2005.
- In Indonesia, the House of Representatives drafted and submitted a freedom of information bill in 2004, but as of 2005 it remained dormant, with the government taking no action.
- In Jordan, there is a draft Law on the Guarantee of Access to Information which was passed onto Parliament at the end of 2005.
- In Kenya, the draft Freedom of Information Act 2007 will soon be tabled into Parliament.
- In Lesotho, the Access and Receipt of Information Bill was before Parliament in 2003-4, but the current status of the legislation is unknown
- In the Maldives, there is currently no freedom of information legislation. In 2004, the government announced that a bill was expected to be passed in that year, but this has not yet transpired.
- In Mozambique, the government produced a draft Freedom of Information Bill in August 2005. It is expected to become law within two years.
- In Nauru, the Freedom of Information Act 2004 was laid before the parliament in that year, but was not passed. Further work on the legislation is currently being held back, pending a review of the country’s Constitution.
- In Nigeria, the Freedom of Information Bill was approved by the Senate in November 2006. It must now be reconciled with the version approved by the House and signed by the President.
- In Sri Lanka, the 2004 draft Freedom of Information Act has been endorsed by both major parties, but had not been passed as of January 2005.
(Unless stated otherwise, information is current as of July 2008.