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The legislative practice of freedom of information

Freedom of Information, Journalism and Libraries
1 Introduction
2 The principle of freedom of information
3 The legislative practice of freedom of information
4 Libraries and freedom of information
5 Journalism
6 Ethical difficulties of journalists
7 Conclusion
* References
tulosta Printable version
Legislators use the term freedom of information to refer to a more limited statutory right of access by the public to official information. This concept is closely related to the idea of open government, which also includes observation of meetings by the public, and consultation on planning and decision-making. It is now increasingly discussed within the broad field of information governance. Freedom of information laws have been in force in Sweden since 1766, and in a number of other countries since the late twentieth century. Recently, there is a UK Freedom of Information Act (2000), which, although not in full force until 2005, will give the public the right of access to information held by ‘public authorities’.

It is, however, the US Freedom of Information Act (1966), which represents the most notable step towards something like complete openness. The law is important because it provides a robust mechanism for access. Under this law any citizen can write to a government agency requesting full disclosure of information on any topic on which they believe the agency has files, without demonstrating any ‘need to know’. The agency must then respond within 10 working days with details of what it holds, and release the full documentation if it is then requested. This might be an empty right if citizens had little knowledge of which agency might hold the information they sought and even less knowledge of the types of files the agencies held. This is addressed by a requirement that agencies should publish details of their gathering, holding, organising and other information procedures in the Federal Register. Over time the procedures have gradually been clarified and improved. This has enabled researchers to discover and reveal important information on topics as diverse as secret government surveillance of writers and political activists, safety at nuclear power stations, and the enforcement of environmental protection laws. The potential value to investigative journalism of freedom of information law is obvious, but what is the relation of libraries to freedom of information generally?

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