The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The text was published as a part of a blog relay highlighting the 250th anniversary of the adoption of legal guarantees for freedom of information and a free press in Sweden.
Today, we have over 100 access to information laws around the world. These laws – protecting the public’s right to know – are increasingly important to keep citizens informed and involved. But the implementation of these laws is fragile in a digital world. We are connected in ways unimaginable when the first freedom of information law was launched in Sweden. Smart phones, instant messaging, and social media provide greater access to information – but also challenge our ability to ensure records and decisions are documented and ultimately preserved for the public.
I am the Information Commissioner for the UK, and my job is to regulate both the right to know, and the right of privacy. This dual mandate helps us in adjudicating and finding the right balance between public interest scrutiny of government and protection of personal privacy.
As technology evolves, new ways of doing things bring uncertainty. If governments want projects in areas such as big data to be successful, they need public buy-in. Transparency around what public authorities are doing, and what they plan to do, is a vital part of this.
Over the course of my time as Information Commissioner, I am committed to improving transparency around public services delivered by private companies as well as cracking down on those public authorities which are persistently bad at dealing with FOI requests. I’ll also be encouraging citizens to become more engaged in access to information rights – to get involved in our democracy. It is up to each of us to ensure our information rights strike the right balance for transparency.
Information Commissioner for the UK