Today, September 19, is Italy's “Day of Transparency:" which activists hope to use to put pressure on the government for the adoption of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the country.
A group of associations and prominent individuals started a campaign last spring to demand the introduction of a law that allows citizens to have access to documentation from the public administration. The initiative was presented at the Italian Parliament on May 29 this year. Amongst the organizers are the Italian Association of Newspaper Publishers (FIEG) and the National Federation of the Italian Press (FNSI) and personalities like Valerio Onida, President emeritus of the Constitutional Court.
Gathered today in Rome at the headquarters of the FNSI, the promoters are holding a conference with speeches from professors, politicians and journalists.
Today in Italy a citizen can request and receive from public bodies only documents that involve him/her directly, an article on lavoce.info explains. The introduction of a FOIA – continues the article – would affirm the principle by which data and information detained by the public administration are citizens’ property. It would also be an instrument for the public opinion to hold government and public administrations accountable.
The promoters of the Day of Transparency ask the government to include the FOIA in the Digital Agenda bill to be discussed by the Parliament.
A free flow of information accessible to all citizens is an essential pillar underlying democracy and it is recognized by several human rights declarations. The introduction of a law that states the right to access to data and documents held by public bodies dates back years in many countries and it exists now in 80 countries. In the United States the FOIA was introduce in 1966 by President Johnson, after Sweden and Finland. In the UK it was adopted in 2000 by the Labour government.
“The right of everyone, without discrimination on any ground, to have access, on request, to official documents held by public authorities” was also stated by the European Convention of the Council of Europe on 18 June 2009.
A more accessible flow of information is clearly compatible with the open government philosophy, that states the needs for governments to be transparent and open to the public scrutiny, as well as the interrelated open data movement. In some countries, FOIAs have been the basis in recent years for the development of data journalism and the proliferation of accessible and searchable database.
For the 46th anniversary of the FOIA in the US, the National Security Archive compiled a list of 46 articles of the past years made possible by the use of the FOIA.
The Guardian, whose DataBlog is on the cutting-edge in terms of data journalism, has recently looked into the use of the Freedom of Information requests in 2011 and the percentage of which were turned down.