Access to Information (Freedom of Information) Policies
Access to information (or freedom of information) policies specify the obligations of government entities to respond to request for information.
For the Government of Canada, the obligations are specified in the Access to Information Act (reference below) which states (section 2.1):
“The purpose of this Act is to extend the present laws of Canada to provide a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution in accordance with the principles that government information should be available to the public, that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific and that decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government.”
Most governments in OECD countries have such legislation and have developed detailed procedures for responding to requests under the legislation. For the Government of Canada, the relevant policies can be found on the Treasury Board of Canada website entitled Access to information in the federal government, at https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/topics/access-information-privacy/access-information.html (accessed 24 September 2017).
Impacts and costs
Freedom of information legislation will affect the way that analysis and advice is generated and shared within public institutions. Although some records or parts of records (e.g., memoranda to Cabinet; “advice to Ministers”) are exempted or excluded for period of 20 or more years, the question of what is legitimate to exclude and what is “FOI-able” in particular instances can be subject to debate and even litigation. Some worry that less is being written down than in earlier days and that fear of public misinterpretation of draft or disputatious material is leading to less rigorous analysis of options and their potential negative consequences.
The costs of processing freedom of information requests can be substantial. A 2010 paper by Anna Colquhoun (reference below) produced the following international comparison:
Atlas topic, subject, and course
Government of Canada, Justice Laws Website, Access to Information Act, at http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/A-1/FullText.html, accessed 24 September 2017.
Anna Colquhoun (2010), The Cost of Freedom of Information, at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/foi/countries/cost-of-foi.pdf, accessed 24 September 2017.
Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 24 September 2017.
Image: Orange City Council, at http://www.orange.nsw.gov.au/site/index.cfm?display=239043, accessed 24 September 2017.