A new study led by the Associated Press shows that more than 50 percent of countries with freedom of information (FOI) laws do not follow them.
In January, the AP sent out “questions regarding terrorism arrests and convictions to the European Union and the 105 countries with right-to-know laws or constitutional provisions.” Only 14 of the 105 countries included answered the questions in full and within the legal deadline.
This response is quite shocking. FOI laws are suppose to give citizens the right to know what their government is really up to. But when governments don’t respond, the public is left at a huge and unfair disadvantage. One expert who spoke with the AP adequately sums up the problem:
“Having a law that’s not being obeyed is almost worse than not having a law at all,” says Daniel Metcalf, the leading U.S. Freedom of Information authority at the Justice Department for the past 25 years, now a law professor at American University. “The entire credibility of a government is at stake.”
It appears from the report that countries with newer, democratic governments are faster, and simply better, at responding to FOI requests. Case in point: Mexico responded in two months to the query sent by the AP. On the other hand, it took 10 months, 18 phone calls and dozens of letters before the FBI responded to AP reporters’ requests. The result, according to the study, was six months late and consisted of “a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large blanked section.”
It’s disheartening that in 2010, only 55 percent of US FOI requests were responded to. It’s disappointing not only to reporters who are trying to shed light on what the government is doing but also to everyday citizens who are just curious.
Have you submitted a FOI request recently? How long did it take for you to get a response?
Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter at @10000words or @elanazak.