AP released an investigative article last month on the contradictions of what they term, “right-to-know” laws, or what information professionals usually dub Freedom of Information (FOI) or Access to Information legislation. The news source found that developing democracies with newly established FOI laws are better at fully addressing access to information requests from the public, citing Guatemala and India as cases. European and North American countries however fared less adequately in this regard. US FOIA officials in the Department of Justice attribute their inadequacy to an inability to tackle the challenges that come with the emergence of electronic records. AP suggests that FOI laws founded in developed countries early in the formation of FOI legislation are showing their age.
In developing democracies where FOI laws are in use, the ideal of giving voice to ordinary people by enabling them with the right to know information has been realized. However, the successful execution of these laws is not without its costs. AP shows that in India retributive crimes arise against ordinary citizens who seek answers through the use of right-to-know laws. These individuals normally seek justice in holding accountable corrupt authorities who in turn terrorize them for exercising their right to information.
In light of the harm these laws can engender for those who use them, there is still a long road ahead for developing democracies beyond right-to-know laws. Such transparency laws are not guarantees of open societies that will protect its citizens despite the new powers they offer them…