Category: Archive

Information isn’t so free

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

They were uttered by V.I. Lenin but it’s not hard to imagine politicians, even in Democratic parliaments, thinking much on the same lines, especially when some pesky citizen or journalist starts banging on the door and demanding full disclosure of the facts.
Americans are by now familiar with the Freedom of Information Act. It’s been on the books in the U.S. since 1967. The scope of the U.S. act was dramatically expanded eight years later to include access to the files of law enforcement agencies such as the FBI.
Freedom of information is not an absolute concept, even in a country that views itself as being the most open in the world. American citizens frequently obtain files classified as secret only to discover that most of the pertinent or desired information in them has been inked out.
By way of example, “IF” got hold of a batch of FBI files linked to the case of one of the “deportees” a few years back. The files had been obtained under the FOIA. But so much of them had been blacked out that they might as well have been blank sheets of paper.
There are obviously cases where absolute access to information might pose a risk to a person, or persons. But much of the time the paucity of detail is more to do with the so-called “culture of secrecy” so beloved by governments and bureaucracies, democratic and otherwise.
Ireland’s Freedom of Information Act was launched with considerable fanfare in 1997. It has produced mixed results since, and more than a fair bit of criticism.
A year after the act went into operation, the Sunday Tribune newspaper in Dublin ran a story headlined “Freedom of Information act keeps door shut.” The story stated that even after a year the act could not be used to obtain data from a significant number of public bodies including the Garda Siochana, universities and even Bord F

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