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Auteur : Glover Mark, Holsen Sarah, MacDonald Craig ...[et al.]
Année de Publication : 2006
Type : Article
Thème : Information et communication
Couverture : Etats-Unis d'Amérique

Résumé/Sommaire :

Freedom of information (FOI) laws are becoming more and more common worldwide. From nine such laws 20 years ago to 66 in 2006, the legislation is often touted by supporters and campaigners as a window into government, and by legislating administrations as proof of their commitment to transparency and accountability. How it works in practice, however, is often far from the ideal vision either group holds prior to implementation. This paper explores freedom of information in practice in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, three countries that legislated at three distinct periods of FOI’s evolution.

The research undertaken to complete this paper consisted mainly of secondary source review and analysis. Government reports and other literature, newspaper and academic articles, web sites and the pieces of legislation themselves were consulted and examined. Every attempt to locate the most current information was made. One case study is based on the preliminary findings from original research that is currently being carried out by researchers at the Constitution Unit.

The paper consists of four distinct but related topics that, together, form a comprehensive view of the legislation in each country: governance and management of the legislation; elements reserved from coverage and protected by the legislation; usage and statistics; and practical issues for authorities. The topics follow one another in an order that allows the reader to build his/her knowledge of the laws in a logical fashion. In addition to factual information and analysis, each topic includes a case study to highlight a specific issue within the overall topic scope. Below are the main findings:

- In practice, freedom of information (FOI) works differently to the ideal vision of how it should work.

- The costs and benefits of FOI are unclear; further research is required to assess each.

- Monitoring FOI forms an important component in any successful implementation; however, monitoring requirements and standards vary considerably across the USA, Canada, and the UK.

- There is a core set of exemptions common to almost all FOI laws, which includes those relating to national defense, international relations, personal information, legal proceedings and policy advice.

- Some FOI regimes, most notably the UK’s (which entails a ‘government veto’ that enables it to withhold information), illustrate a certain degree of reluctance to move to genuinely ‘open government.

- The proportion of a country’s population that use FOI is very small. Citizens in the United States are more active users of FOI than citizens in the United Kingdom or Canada. Despite what one might think, most journalists do not use the Act; how a core group of reporters and editors do use the legislation; often to great effect.

- Private individuals (i.e. ‘members of the public’), businesses and the media are the most frequent users of FOI.

- There are very few FOI ‘horror stories’; the release of information has rarely impacted negatively on the public interest.

- The new security environment has had a marked impact on freedom of information, especially in the United States where several measures have been introduced to restrict access to information.

- In spite of drawbacks and problems encountered in each jurisdiction, more information is being released into the public domain and there are signs that FOI legislation helps create a greater culture of openness in government.

- Records management is at the heart of successful implementation of FOI legislation; essentially, if the information cannot be efficiently located it is unlikely to be released.

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