The principle of freedom of information
As used by the library and information professions, freedom of information is an over-arching concept, generous but imprecise, expressing the professionals rejection of any form of restriction on the circulation of information that might include:
As such it is closely related to the concept of universal availability of information (UAI) proposed as a wider programme by IFLA in the 1980s to subsume the narrower, but in practice more or less identical, programme concept of universal availability of publications (UAP). In the event, IFLA persisted with the narrower, but better known term.
- censorship, both pre- and post publication,
- national and official secrecy,
- suppression of information for private and corporate reasons,
- developments, financial, technological and social, that create information-poor countries, regions, classes, social groups and individuals, and
- the perpetuation of ineffective and restrictive public and private information systems and services through practices such as filtering of Internet content.
Freedom of information in this broad sense can be seen as deriving from the much older ideas of freedom of opinion, intellectual freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of expression, which have their historical roots at least as far back as the ancient Greek city states. The First Amendment to the American Constitution in forbidding Congress from abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press has long been the most effective and inspiring statement of this. Freedom of expression is now widely regarded as a human right, and the UK Human Rights Act (1998) states quite simply that
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
At the same time it is important to note that the UN General Assemblys Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1945) by further defining freedom of expression to include the rights
to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
effectively broadens the concept to one of freedom of access to information, not merely expression.