South Korea Not Pursuing OGP Goals, Review Finds

17 February 2016

South Korea has fallen well short of its stated goal of releasing 10 million government documents annually, according to an analysis conducted for the Open Government Partnership.

“There is little evidence that South Korea has actively participated in OGP,” begins the review by Geoffrey Cain, an independent researcher in South Korea. His detailed assessment was recently published by the branch of the OGP responsible for arranging independent reviews of member countries’ performance.

In addition, a citizen group to oversee access issues seems to be operating in private, if at all, Cain found. And a promised list of data to be published in “ten areas of high interest” has not materialized, he said.

Cain also wrote a Wall Street Journal blog post saying that South Korean authorities have “chilled” democratic expectations by “stepping up censorship of the press and Internet.”

Looking at the promises made in its OGP national action plan, Cain suggested not only that the government had missed its document disclosure goal, but is double-counting its document releases. In December 2015, the government said that close to 5.5 million items have been released, Cain said, but he cited stakeholders such as OpenNet as finding the number exaggerated. The government releases local and provincial datasets separately from national datasets, although they have similar content to national datasets, allowing the government to essentially count the same dataset more than once, the report says.

The watch group was formed, Cain said, but he continues, “It is not clear how the government selected the citizens and how this group exercises oversight on information disclosure.” He could find no information on the watch group or its activities.

Another 2014 was to improve the quality of disclosed information. To do so, the Korean government said it would announce a list of to-be-disclosed information categorized under ten specific areas of high interest (health, welfare, food safety, child-rearing, finance, education, consumer protection, leisure, job, and housing).

The researcher praised the ambition of the goal, but reported that he could not locate the promised information.

He noted that stakeholders had welcomed the plans to disclose non-sensitive information to the default status but felt the government “has so far not lived up to all of its promises.”

He reported:

Rather, most agreed, various ministries have simply not been disclosing information of actual “high interest” issues—as promised in the action plan—but are releasing a surfeit of trivial and miscellaneous datasets with little bearing to the needs of CSOs and businesses. Park Kyung-sin, head of Open Net Korea, said that problems remain with the freedom of information law, such as allowing local governments to classify documents without many specific guidelines. Once they are classified, there are few legal mechanisms for challenging the decision. Anna Ji-eun Jeon, Founder and CEO of Indi Lab, gave a specific example; her recent FOI request for basic information on international development aid was rejected because it was classified as a diplomatic secret. This information is typically available to the public in OECD countries.

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