07 December 2011

Associated Press reveals that most access to information laws do not work

Last month, the Associated Press released a country-by-country comparison as to how well freedom of information was being implemented in states that gave protection to that right. The report's conclusion was that more than half of existing laws are not working.

In January 2011, reporters submitted questions relating to terrorism arrests and convictions to the European Union and 105 states that had access to information laws or constitutional provisions enshrining the right to information.

Only 14 states provided a useful response within the statutory mandated deadline. 38 countries answered most of the questions, but did not comply with their statutory deadline. 54 states acknowledged receipt, but had not provided access to any of the requested information, while 35 did not provide a response of any kind. Six nations responded to the query by refusing to provide information on the basis of national security.

South Africa was included in the "responsive" category of states. This means that the numbers, names, and dates of arrests and convictions on terror charges were provided. However, the study also pointed out that South Africa took 200 days to respond, notwithstanding a 30 day statutory limit to provide a response. Copies of the records provided by South Africa are available here.

The study pointed out that new democracies were particularly good at responding with the requested information within the mandated time requirement. Guatemala and Turkey both responded within 10 days. India, not only responded with the information within the statutory timeline, but they also gave more detailed information than what was being sought.

By comparison, the study reported that "Canada asked for a 200-day extension, and the FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large blanked section."

A summary of the report and links to source documents are available on the Associated Press facebook page.