FOI Impact: Success Stories

27 September 2016

Successful requests for government information pack real-world punch.
They help fight pollution, improve medical care, and protect human rights. has collected potent examples, all from the past year, of how people around the world use their freedom of information laws (whatever its name).
This sampling was culled from hundred of media accounts and from suggestions by FOI advocates consulted by See a fuller description of this special feature here.

11 Categories

Health Care


Public Safety



Human Rights


Personal/Local Benefits

Historical Record

Open Data

Government Operations

Health Care

Mexican Women Diagnose Healthcare Budget

The women in the village of Lazaro Cardenas in Chiapas used a FOI request to discover that the village had a budget to contract a doctor and buy medicines. Based on the information they received, the women demanded that authorities fulfill their obligation. Two month later, a doctor was assigned to the community. Documented by Article 19 in video (in Spanish).

Action Taken in Kenya to Fix Suspect Program

The Young Leaders of Kenya, after training, filed a request for information about a program to distribute sanitary towels for women that was corrupted. Even though the request wasn’t officially answered, officials took steps to ensure proper distribution. (Source)

Pakistani Newspaper Uncovers Lack of Doctors

Almost one-third of health facilities in the state of Punjab were operating without doctors, the News learns through a request under the state FOI RTI law. (Source)

 Overcrowding in Canadian Hospitals Revealed

Ontario’s major hospitals are overcrowded, operating with 100 per cent of their acute care beds occupied, sometimes trying to squeeze in even more, creating potential hazards for patients and leading to inadequate care, according to documents obtained by the New Democratic Party. (Source)

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Malawi Requests Uncover Ghost Workers

Public officials controlling a public works program connived to create 20 ghost beneficiaries on the program in the hope of sharing the proceeds. The chairperson of Umodzi Community Rights Club requested a list of the beneficiaries and exposed the fraud. (Source)

Ugandan Group Gets to Root of Construction Problems

Kick Corruption out of Kigezi (KICK), a civil society organization, raised questions about the lack of completion of school buildings, learning about shoddy plumbing. The discovery led to an official visit and efforts to remedy the problem. (Source)

Pakistan RTI Request Reveals Suspicious Sale

 Maharashtra Minister Eknath Khadse purchased land well below market value, according to information provided via an RTI request by The Indian Express. The land was due for imminent acquisition by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation. (Source)

Corruption Seen in Mexican Projects

In the municipality of Huehuetenango, Manolo Palacios, successfully used access to information requests to learn that some municipal worked had two jobs and that some politician’s relatives benefitted from construction of the municipal slaughterhouse and municipal sanitary sewer. (Source, in Spanish)

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Public Safety

Holding the Jamaican Government to Account

Reports obtained under the Access to Information Act in Jamaica showed that several government agencies were aware of a string of permit breaches at Blue Diamond Royalton Hotel in Negril — where a building collapse injured at least five construction workers. (Source)

More Near Misses Between Plans, Drones Reported in UK

The number of reported near-misses between drones and planes is on the rise with almost one every week so far in 2016, according to new figures, according to information from a FOI request in the UK. (Source)

US Fed Records Show Dozens of Cybersecurity Breaches

The U.S. Federal Reserve detected more than 50 cyber breaches between 2011 and 2015, with several incidents described internally as “espionage,” according to Fed cybersecurity reports obtained by Reuters through a Freedom of Information Act request. (Source)

Parmesan Cheese Made of Wood in US

 A government report on a cheesemaker, obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, concluded that “no parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” its grated Parmesan Cheese. Instead, there was a mixture of Swiss, mozzarella, white cheddar and cellulose, according to the report. (Source)

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Trees Not Planted: An RTI Discovery in India

Activist Nazir Ahmad used the RTI Act to document the Forest Department’s poor record of tree planting in Tossamaidan, the King of Meadows, in Kashmir. Exercising the law’s right of inspection, Nazir and his team observed that no trees had been planted in some areas, contradicting department claims. (Source)

Documents Expose Lead Levels in Michigan City

State-level FOIA releases in Michigan helped expose both the cost-driven decisions not to add corrosion controls to Flint water supply, and the cover-up to hide the grave mistake. A series of FOIA requests submitted by the ACLU of Michigan and Virginia Tech researchers exposed the extent of lead contamination in Flint’s water. (Source)

Reports Released in Spain Question Nuclear Waste Site

Spain’s Transparency Council says the Nuclear Safety Council must disclose several confidential internal reports that question the suitability of the site chosen for the storage of radioactive waste. (Source)

Little Work Done to Improve Ganges River Health

 Despite large allocations, statistics revealed through an RTI request show that very little has been done to improve the condition of the holy Ganges River. (Source)

Data Proves Pollution From Indian Power Plant

People living around two power plants in western India have long complaining of ill effects of air pollution for long. Now government figures are available to support their claims. Information obtained by an activist shows that over 6,000 persons were affected by air pollution in the area in 2015. (Source)

Pesticides Harm Bees, Revealed Reports in US Show

Research by two agrochemical companies, revealed by Greenpeace through a US FOIA request, shows that neonicotinoid pesticides commissioned by two of the leading agrochemical companies, Syngenta can cause serious harm to honeybees. (Source)

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Malawi Requests on Education Lead to Reimbursements

Requests for information about contracts to provide school supplies in Malawi laid the groundwork for fieldwork that proved they were not delivered. Finally, the supplier was forced to reimburse all funds meant for the supplies. (Source)

Lack of Head Teachers Discovered in Pakistan

Many schools in Pakistan’s Punjab province lack head teachers, according to data obtained through RTI. (Source)

RTI Requests shows Teacher Vacancies in Scottish Schools

There were nearly 730 teacher vacancies in Scotland’s schools as pupils returned after their summer break, according to figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats through a freedom of information. A Liberal Democrat education spokesman warned that teachers would be “dangerously overstretched.”  (Source)

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Human Rights

Discrimination Against Muslims Shown

RTI disclosures from half a dozen banks to Mumbai-based RTI activist M A Khalid showed that of all priority sector loans, Muslims got a little over 2% in contrast to a population percentage of about 14 percent. (Source)

 US Documents Confirm Torture

 The Central Intelligence Agency released 50 declassified documents detailing its use of brutal interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. (Source) Allegations of torture by a US detainee held in Quantanemo are revealed in transcripts made public following FOI requests by the American Civil Liberties Union. (Source)

Reports on Human Trafficking Depended on RTI Requests

The Indian State of Goa has become a source as well as a transit destination for trafficking of women and children for sex trade, according to reports by nongovernmental organizations who used RTI requests to gather official statistics. (Source)

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German Data Reveals Hate Crimes

German police registered a 30 percent increase in xenophobic violence within nine months of 2016, according to information obtained by the Green Party from the Interior Ministry under freedom of information act. (Source)

 India RTI Requests Uncovers Arrest Deaths

At least one person booked on drug charges dies every four days either in prison or police station in Punjab, the Indian Express reported after analyzing  two years of reports. (Source)

Treatment of Immigrants in Australia Exposed

Australian police use banned restraint technique on asylum seekers, according to Detention Logs, a project that publishes data, documents and investigations that reveal government information on conditions and events inside Australia’s immigration detention network. (Source)

Practices in US Private Prisons Investigated

FOIA requests filed through the US site Muckrock “have released thousands of documents that show how for-profit prisons have leveraged the legal system to their advantage, letting companies pick-and-choose inmates to off-load costs, ignore complaints and concerns, and create dangerous conditions for prisoners and staff alike.” (Source)

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Personal/Local Benefit

Thai Peasants Federation Asserts Land Rights

The Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand used the Official Information Act as a key weapon to investigate government property that had long been in the grip of investors, managing to get it redistributed to farmers as part of Thai land reforms. (Reuters)

Bangladeshi Woman Secure Ration Card Following RTI Request

Rezia Khatun, a 36-year-old woman, became destitute after her husband suddenly died. With three children to look after, she resorted to begging for a living. After being denied a Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) card, she and an RTI activist submitted an RTI request about whom else was getting cards and her eligibility; resulting in her receiving a card. (Source)

Retired Serviceman Uses RTI to Qualify for Tax Relief

PP Sebastian of India filed an RTI request to break through nine years of bureaucratic impediments that prevented him from getting an exemption from having to pay personal property tax. (Source)

RTI Information Benefits Indian Farmers Hit by Drought

Information procured under the RTI Act contradicted government denials of drought conditions, resulting in compensation for farmers. (Source)

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Historical Record

EU President Had Ties with Goldman Sachs

Jose Manuel Barroso had closer contact with Goldman Sachs during his tenure as European Commission chief than he has previously admitted, according to Correspondence obtained by Portuguese daily Publico under a freedom of information request. Barroso, who took a job with the US bank earlier this year, held unregistered meetings with Goldman’s top people. (Source)

Rate Hikes by Irish Insurers Explained in Government Document

A briefing document prepared for the Minister for Transport and obtained by The Irish Times under the FOI Act, said that insurers “are racing to get back to profitability after years of being forced by a competitive market to give car owners decent deals.” (Source)

Records Document Malnutrition in India

Nearly 17,000 children died from malnutrition in the period 2015-2016 in the state of Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court was told based on data obtained through RTI queries. The court said the numbers are “shocking and disturbing.” (Source)

What Did a US President and a UK Prime Minister Talk About?

Conversations between British Prime Minister John Major and George H.W. Bush are recorded in transcripts obtained by the BBC, showing they frequently commiserated with each other. (Source)

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Open Data

Mexican Agency Agrees to Release Energy Data

 A FOI request caused the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data to instruct the Secretariat of Energy to release data about the national power supply going back to 1965. The order overturned agency objections of confidentiality, although some information may still be redacted. (Source)

 FOIA Request for Police Call Database

 The Chicago Justice Project used the state FOI law to win access to a database of police calls for service. “We believe that the Freedom of Information Act is a vital tool for communities to learn about the actions of the criminal justice agencies working on their behalf,” the website says. (Source)

 Ranking of Mental Health Done in UK

FOIA requests and survey results are combined to create a ranking of mental health at universities by The Tab. (Source)

US Data Discovered on Saudi Investment Disclosed

Saudi Arabian purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds are disclosed, ending four decades of keeping the figure secret, because of a Bloomberg FOI request. (Source)

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Government Operations

Policies Not Following by Indian Agency

The environment ministry apparently approved proposals allowing animal hunting without the required scientific study, RTI replies reveal. (Source)

Scottish Government Pressured by Corporations

Documents released under freedom of information rules show that the Scottish government discarded plans for porpoise conservation area following warnings from a corporation that the zone would cause investors to pull out of wind farm investments. (Source)

UK Library Closings Cost More than Keeping Them Open

A local council that temporarily closed two libraries as a money-saving measure has spent up to three times as much per day on private guards to secure the buildings as it would have cost to keep them open, it has emerged, The Guardian learned following a FOI Request. (Source)

Rwandans Learn When Parliament Is In Session

The Rwandan parliament now publishes the Chamber of Deputies’ schedule of debates/activities for each day on the homepage of their official website (under ‘Today in Parliament’). This follows an FOI request on Rwandan Alaveteli site Sobanukirwa, which urges the parliament to do just that. (Source)

Guam Expenditures to Fight FOI Cases Revealed

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet spent more than $70,000 fighting legal battles to prevent the release of information under freedom of information laws. (Source)

Indian Agency Investigates Few Corruption Complaints

The anti-corruption bureau in Mumbai opened investigations on only 6.67% of the total complaints, according to information provided under the Right to Information Act. (Source)

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