Freedom of information in law
Freedom of information laws by country
In June 2006 nearly 70 countries had freedom of information legislations applying to information held by government bodies and in certain circumstances to private bodies. In 19 of these countries the freedom of information legislation also applied to private bodies Access to information was increasingly recognized as a prerequisite for transparency and accountability of governments, as a facilitating consumers’ ability to make informed choices, and as safeguarding citizens against mismanagement and corruption. This has led an increasing number of countries to enact freedom of information legislation in the past 10 years.
As of 2006 70 countries had comprehensive freedom of information legislation for public bodies, nearly half of which had been enacted in the past 10 years. Such legislation was pending in a further 50 countries.
As of 2006, the following 19 countries had freedom of information legislation that extended to government bodies and private bodies: Antigua and Barbuda, Angola, Armenia, Colombia, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Panama, Poland, Peru, South Africa, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom..
In 1983 the United Nations Commission on Transnational Corporations adopted the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection stipulating eight consumer rights, including “consumer access to adequate information to enable making informed choices according to individual wishes and needs”. Access to information became to be regarded as basic consumer right and preventative disclosure,
Secretive decision making by company directors and corporate scandal led to freedom of information legislation to be published for the benefits of investors. Such legislation was first adopted in Britain in the early 20th century, and later in North America and other countries.
Internet and information technology
Freedom of information (or information freedom) also refers to the protection of the right to freedom of expression with regard to the Internet and information technology. Freedom of information may also concern censorship in an information technology context, i.e. the ability to access Web content, without censorship or restrictions.
The Information Society and freedom of expression
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Declaration of Principles adopted in 2003 reaffirms democracy and the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Declaration also makes specific reference to the importance of the right to freedom of expression for the “Information Society” in stating:
The 2004 WSIS Declaration of Principles also acknowledged that “it is necessary to prevent the use of information resources and technologies for criminal and terrorist purposes, while respecting human rights.” Wolfgang Benedek comments that the WSIS Declaration only contains a number of references to human rights and does not spell out any procedures or mechanism to assure that human rights are considered in practice.
Global Network Initiative
On October 29, 2008 the Global Network Initiative (GNI) was founded upon its “Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy”. The Initiative was launched in the 60th Anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and is based on internationally recognized laws and standards for human rights on freedom of expression and privacy set out in the UDHR, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
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- Computer MisuseThe Computer Misuse Act is designed to protect computer users against willful attacks and theft of information. Offences under the act include hacking, unauthorized access to computer systems and purposefully spreading malicious and damaging software (malware), such as viruses. The act makes it an offence to access or even attempt to access a computer system without the appropriate authorization. Therefore, even if a hacker tries to get into a system but is unsuccessful they can be prosecuted using this law. The act also outlaws “hacking” software, such as packet sniffers, that can be used to break into or discover ways to get into systems.