FOI Notes: Research, Country News, Tips, More

19 February 2015

FOI Research: Gregory Michener has an article in Governance titled “How Cabinet Size and Legislative Control Shape the Strength of Transparency Laws.” Also see shorter version in Democratic Audit UK. Summary:

When are governments likely to adopt strong transparency laws?  Greg Michener says that too much of the existing research has tried to answer that question by looking only at countries with single-party or small-coalition governments.  In those cases, political leaders often have strong reasons for resisting openness.  The dynamic is different when the number of parties controlling government rises.  In broad multiparty coalitions, transparency laws can be used as tools for monitoring coalition partners.  Michener uses Brazil’s experience with freedom of information law to illustrate his argument.  “The leaders of large coalitions,” Michener concludes, “may find FOI particularly appealing because it avoids the high political costs of ‘shadowing ministers’ or traceable leaks.  It delegates diffuse monitoring responsibilities to citizens.”

Italy: A blog post by announces the launch a new website, Ask, to facilitate making requests of government agencies.

Requester Tips: The UK Confirm of Deny blog provides tips on how to pose questions in requests for better results.

India: “In an apparent misinterpretation of the RTI Act, CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) has claimed before the Delhi High Court that it can only share information pertaining to allegations of corruption against its own officials and not the graft cases probed by it,” according to an article in The Economic Times.

India: Officials in the Indian state of Karnataka are contemplating “some drastic changes in the RTI rules, which include keeping the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) out of the ambit of the RTI and imposing postal charges on the applicants,” The Deccan Herald reports.

United States: Muckrock offers an explanation of what presidential records are available.

Open Data: The Open Data Institute issues a report entitled “Open Data in Government: How to Bring About Change.”

Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives: The Transparency and Accountability Initiative describes its effort to explore learning about Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the Open Government Partnership. A conference on the topic is summarized by Alan Hudson of Global Integrity in this link-filled posting.

Media Freedom: Reporters Without Borders issues its 2015 report showing a “drastic decline” worldwide on media freedom.

Vatican: Pope Francis told Roman Catholic cardinals Feb. 12 that church administrators should strive for “greater harmony in work of the various departments and offices, in order to realize a more efficient collaboration based on absolute transparency,” according to Reuters.

Ireland: A proposed policy on open data licensing is released, including questions for consultation.

Scotland: The weaknesses of the FOI law are reviewed in an article by Chris Bartter, who co-ordinates communications for the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland.

Gibraltor: An article in Panorama says the government of Gibraltor, a British Overseas Territory, has published a “Command Paper” describing its planned FOI legislation.

Open Data: “City open data and transparency efforts often miss the mark because municipal leaders fail to connect with community members who could help them make the information richer and more relevant, a panel of CIOs and innovation officers said Thursday, Feb. 12,” according to a US-focused article in Gov Tech.

United States: A top advisor for President Obama, leaving to become an adviser to Hillary Clinton, says in a tweet that his “biggest failure” for 2014, was not securing the release of files about unidentified flying objects. Supporters of FOIA reform legislation had hoped that John Podesta, a FOIA expert and long-time transparency advocate, would get involved in the effort to pass a bill in late 2014. The Obama administration lobbied quietly against the bill, which died in the final hours of the congressional session. (See post mortem.)

United States: As the result of a FOIA request, the Sunlight Foundation has won access to “enterprise data inventories” — indexes created by government agencies quarterly since 2013 about their data holdings.

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