Open Government Data and the Right to Information: Opportunities and Obstacles

Open Government Data and the Right to Information: Opportunities and Obstacles

Katleen Janssen, Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT, KU Leuven – iMinds

1. Introduction

Open government data (OGD) is fashionable. Developers and hackers are making smartphone apps based on datasets held by the public sector, and activists are discovering the value of OGD for defending their causes. Governments and public bodies in Europe and elsewhere are making increasing numbers of datasets available to the public by means of national, regional, local or thematic portals, supported by political commitments towards open government and open data (e.g. HM Government 2012, Finnish Government 2011, Flemish Government 2011). On the global level, OGD is an important part of the Open Government Partnership, an international initiative launched in September 2011 by 8 founding governments1 and currently including 55 countries.2 The participating governments commit to increasing the availability of information about governmental activities, supporting civic participation, implementing the highest standards of professional integrity throughout their administrations, and increasing access to new technologies for openness and accountability.3

From the media coverage and government propaganda about both the demands for OGD and the public sector’s answer to these demands, one might get the impression that the OGD movement has arisen out of nowhere, for the first time demanding government to “give us our data” (see also Halonen 2012). While this may be too bold a statement, it can be argued that any links of the OGD movement with other, pre-existing movements demanding for government information, openness or participation, have been underexposed.

At least two related developments come to mind: the right-to-information (RTI) movement, and the policy on the re-use of public sector information. First, the OGD movement has close ties to the RTI movement, which promotes access to government information as a fundamental right (Access Info 2010). Both movements aim for greater availability of data held by government bodies, even though some differences in approach and focus can be noted. Second, the information industry has been advocating, particularly in the European Union, for the availability of public sector information (PSI) for re-use in added-value information products and services since the late 1980s (Janssen 2010). PSI re-users demand access to full datasets for any use they want to make of it, as does the OGD movement. However, the call for OGD is based on wider arguments than just the promotion of economic growth and the development of the information market (Halonen 2012).  

The links between OGD and the discourse on the re-use of PSI have been set out very eloquently by Jo Bates in this issue (Bates 2012, see also Erkkilä 2010, Halonen 2012). Therefore, this aspect will not be addressed in detail, but will only be referred to when relevant for the main topic of this paper, i.e. the connections between the OGD and the RTI movements.

These movements show important similarities: they both strive for the greater availability of government information, based on arguments for accountability and transparency. However, there are also differences. While the RTI movement is mostly rights-based, OGD is mostly technology-driven. Also, their respective proponents and defenders generally differ in background and the kinds of information or data they target. These differences bring along both risks and opportunities. On the one hand, the recent focus of national governments and public authorities on OGD may ‘distract’ their attention from providing accessible information to the general public in favour of making data portals for developers, entailing a possible new information power for the latter. In addition, the emphasis on proactive dissemination of OGD may actually have a negative influence on the demand-side of RTI. On the other hand, OGD may also bring extensive benefits to the RTI movement, including a momentum and enthusiasm that has been lacking in the RTI sphere.  

In the following sections, I will give a short overview of the drivers and background of the OGD and RTI movements. Then I will address the commonalities and differences between both movements and try to assess the risks and opportunities that the OGD movement can hold for the older, more established RTI.

2. A quick reminder: background and drivers for OGD and RTI

This section first sketches a brief picture of the background and main drivers for OGD, and then moves on to do the same for RTI. While both movements share drivers relating to transparency and democracy, the OGD movement also includes economic drivers and the possibility of (even considerable) economic returns.

2.1. The open government data movement

History and background

The call for OGD has particularly gained momentum in the last two or three years. Two important milestones were the launch of in the United States (USA) in May 2009 and its equivalent in the United Kingdom (UK),, in January 2010. These were among the results of a process towards opening up government information that started in the second half of the last decade. For several years, civil society had been putting pressure on government to make its data available in machine-readable formats, with frontrunner grassroots initiatives such as TheyWorkForYou4 in the UK and GovTrackUs5 in the US (Hogge 2010). While OGD started as a mainly UK and US driven initiative, it has increasingly gathered attention in many other countries and international organisations, including the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).OGD activists strive for the availability of data held by government bodies in an open, non-proprietary, machine-readable format – free of charge or against marginal cost – for any use, whether commercial or non-commercial.6 These activists are generally technically proficient and come from different backgrounds, including open knowledge activists, transparency advocates, PSI re-use business representatives, civic hackers and linked data and semantic web enthusiasts (Bates 2012).

Drivers for open government data

Generally, four main types of drivers can be found for the demands for governments to open up their data. First, OGD is considered vital for transparency and accountability (Gigler et al. 2011): in order to hold its government accountable for its acts, the public needs to know what this government is doing on a continuous basis, and not only once in each election period. In order to reach true transparency, the public should be able not only to obtain the data, but also to further use, combine, and disseminate these without any restrictions (Access Info 2010). A second driver is participatory governance: OGD enables citizens to participate in decision-making processes in an informed and structured manner, and the creation of new platforms for discussion can lower the threshold for engaging in public discussion (Halonen 2012). Thirdly, OGD is a catalyst for innovation and economic growth. New applications and services can be made, based on OGD; new business models created and existing business models improved. In addition, the citizen can interact more effectively and efficiently with his or her environment and make informed decisions by using e.g. information on hospital safety, school comparisons, or transport apps (Yu and Robinson 2012, Gigler et al. 2011). Finally, OGD also has an important internal value for the public sector itself. Public bodies can get access to data held by other public authorities, or can make new use of their own structured data, improved by feedback from the public (Access Info 2010). This enables them to improve the efficiency of their public services, and enhance their internal understanding of their tasks and objectives (Halonen 2012).

While generally all drivers mentioned in the previous paragraph are more or less present in each open government initiative, it is interesting to note that within government, the national, regional and local institutions’ discourse and arguments for opening up their data show different priorities. For instance, Huijboom and Van den Broek found that, while the US open data policy is mainly focused on transparency and democratic control, the Danish agenda focuses on innovation and growth (Huijboom and Van den Broek 2011). In the UK, efficiency of the public sector and the provision of better public services also play an important role (HM Government 2012). A topic of interest for future research could be how these different motives affect the availability of particular datasets or the adoption of open data practices within government.  

Particularly the OGD movement’s arguments relating to transparency, accountability and public participation are closely related to the drivers for the right to access government information. While this is recognised in many reports and studies, the relationship between these is generally only addressed on a basic level. This paper tries to kick-start some more in-depth debate about the interaction of the OGD and RTI movements and on the influence OGD may have on the further evolution of the right to information. Before addressing the relationship between OGD and the right to information, I will first give a short overview of the main drivers and legal basis of the RTI movement.

2.2. The RTI movement

History and background

The RTI movement advocates for the right of the public to access government information, often also referred to as freedom of information in national legislation.7 Briefly stated, this right has two main aspects: first, the public has the right to access information held by government and public bodies on request; second, governments have an obligation to actively disseminate information to the public on matters of public interest. The right to information was first recognised in national legislation in Sweden in 1766.8 The Freedom of the Press Act created a right of the citizen to access official documents in order to encourage the free exchange of opinion and the availability of comprehensive information (Open Society Justice Initiative et al. 2008). After over 200 years of very little activity relating to access9, from the 1990s onwards many countries adopted legislation on the right to information. Currently, around 90 countries have adopted freedom of information legislation and 50 more have legislation pending (Hazell and Worthy 2010, Vleugels 2009). In addition, freedom of information has been recognised as a constitutional right in more than 30 countries (Peled and Rabin 2011, Access Info 2010), and it is increasingly considered as a human right (Mason 2000, Paradissis 2009, Voorhoof 2010; see however also Bishop 2009 and Darch and Underwood 2009 for a critical note).

On an international level, the right to information is increasingly recognised by several international organisations, including the United Nations (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe 1998, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression 2000), the Council of Europe (Council of Europe 2008), the Organisation of American States  (OAS General Assembly 2007, Permanent Council of the Organization of American States Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs 2008, OAS Department of International Law 2010), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 2012).

Civil society has played a major role in this international recognition of access to information. Activist organisations such as Article 19, Access Info, Transparency International, the Carter Center, Open Society Initiative,, or the Freedom of Information Advocates Network, continue to raise awareness on the importance of the right to information and call upon governments to take their responsibility towards the citizens, for instance by filing applications and complaints or by creating media campaigns. In some cases, they are also invited to take part in the preparatory process for access legislation, e.g. the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents.

Research on the right to information has mainly focused on comparative analyses of existing FOI laws and practices (e.g. Banisar 2006, Mendel 2008, Darch and Underwood 2010, Access Info and Centre for Law and Democracy 2012, Vleugels 2009), and the impact of freedom of information in different countries or levels of government (e.g. Calland 2010,  Hazell et al. 2010; Roberts 2010). Recent work from Peled and Rabin also looks at the right to information as a constitutional right (Peled and Rabin 2011) and, among others, Blanton and Mendel have examined the status of the right to information as a human right (Blanton 2006, Mendel 2003). Research into the theoretical basis and origin of the right to information links it to freedom of expression, citizenship and political participation rights (Ackerman and Sandoval-Ballesteros 2006, Bovens 2002). Related to this, in the next section I will give a short overview of the drivers for the right to information.        


The main drivers for the right to information are comparable to the arguments for OGD and can be grouped under the encompassing claim that access to information is indispensable in a democracy (Peled and Rabin 2011, Mendel 2003, Bishop 2009). While Birkinshaw’s statement that the right to information is fundamental to one’s status as “a full member of the human race” (Birkinshaw 2006) is relatively unique in its boldness, the importance for democracy has been recognised by many scholars on several levels.

First, access to government information is a key component of any transparency and accountability process for government activities and processes. In order for the citizen to ensure that the public bodies are staying within the limits of the law and within the limits of their remit – i.e. to exercise a posteriori political control over the government activities – he or she needs to know about those limits and about the actions of the public bodies (Janssen 2010, Schram 2002, Mason 2000). Access acts as a safeguard against arbitrariness, inefficiency and corruption (Kranenborg and Voermans 2005, Mackaay 1992) and is important for building a relationship of trust between the government and the citizens.

Second, the right to information is considered an important tool for increasing public participation (Bovens 2002). An informed citizen can better contribute to governmental processes and express meaningful views that can help shape government policy (Birkinshaw 2006, Perritt Jr. and Lhulier 1997). This is a continuous process: the citizens do not only need to have sufficient information when they are choosing the person to represent them at the moment of elections, but also throughout the legislatures of elected representatives, e.g. in moments of direct participation such as referenda, on-line consultations, public meetings, etc. (Janssen, 2010).

Third, citizens need information to fully participate in society. This involves knowing their rights and obligations and being able to exercise them, not only towards the State and the government, but also towards other citizens (Wiese Schartum 1998, Peled and Rabin 2011). From this perspective, the right to information is an instrumental right – it enables the assertion of other rights (Darch and Underwood 2009, Beers 1996). However, beyond the rights-based need for information, citizens also need information to participate in economic and social life, to develop their relationships with other people, with the community and on the market, and to enjoy a good standard of living (Janssen 2010).

Finally, Peled and Rabin also provide a ‘proprietary justification’: information held by public authorities is the property of the state’s citizens and residents. As owners of the information, they should clearly have access to it (Peled and Rabin 2011).

At first sight, the OGD and RTI movement show considerable similarity in their objectives and drivers, even leading some to question whether OGD can replace FOI legislation and by itself guarantee the right to information.10 However, more insight is needed in the links and differences between both movements and into the possible impact, both on a theoretical and on a practical level, of OGD developments on the right to information. In the following section, I try to highlight some elements of the relationship between RTI and OGD and expose some of the issues that need to be tackled in the future debate on OGD and RTI.

3. The relationship between OGD and RTI

3.1 A first impression of the similarities and differences

As a starting point, it is clear that OGD and RTI are closely related. For the most part, they are based on the same drivers and they strive for the same thing: the broader availability to the public of information held by the public sector. However, looking a bit more in depth at the drivers of OGD and RTI, one can see that next to the common arguments for transparency and accountability, the OGD movement also relies on two drivers that are of less importance to RTI activists: innovation and economic growth on the one hand, and efficiency of the public sector on the other (Yu and Robinson 2012). As Bates mentions, these arguments are often hidden behind or at least minimised in comparison to the transparency driver, which is assumed to appeal to a larger audience (Bates 2012). She argues that many members of the OGD community are not aware of the underlying driver of the marketisation of services, even though this may have a significant impact on the priorities set out by the movement, and also by government, e.g. relating to the delivery channels, types of data or their format. However, RTI and OGD are also growing closer: with the growing emphasis of the RTI movement on proactive disclosure as a means for all members of society to enjoy the right to information and not just the individuals filing a request, more attention is being given to the efficiency argument. By proactively making information available, public bodies can reduce the burden of requests for information and improve their information management and information flows (Darbishire 2010).  

In general, while the RTI movement uses rights-based arguments, OGD activists rely more on the technical possibilities of data and on the proprietary argument that government data belongs to the public taxpayers. This also relates to the kind of activists behind these arguments. RTI activists are generally ‘bred’ in human rights and democratisation spheres. Darbishire identifies at least four different groups of civil society activism on the right to information, particularly on proactive disclosure (Darbishire 2010): sectoral campaigns on the national level (e.g. on agricultural subsidies or rural land rights); sectoral campaigns on a regional or international level (e.g. Farmsubsidy.org11); national and international campaigns on access to information in general; and supranational initiatives supported by intergovernmental bodies and public institutions (e.g. the Global Transparency Initiative coalition, or the Open Government Partnership, although the latter has also been subject to considerable criticism with regard to the right to information, see e.g. Mendel 2012).

While OGD activism is also rooted in civil society, activists are more often technology-savvy civic hackers or entrepreneurs than civil rights advocates (Access Info 2010). OGD also differs in the interest it receives from the political level: while politicians and high-level administrators are generally not interested in initiating freedom of information legislation and increasing transparency (except maybe to hold their political opponents under scrutiny, as was the case with the United States FOIA, see Ackerman and Sandoval-Ballesteros 2006), they seem to have taken a liking to open data. Moreover, many OGD activists come from within government administrations (Davies 2010): civil servants interested in new media and technologies, information management, and interaction with their citizen-customers.

Another difference lies in the respective objectives of OGD and RTI. OGD is focused on opening up raw, machine-readable data and datasets, while proponents of the right to information address any type of qualitative or quantitative information, laid down in documents (Gigler et al. 2011). This also reflects in the type of datasets that are considered of interest: for innovation and economic growth this generally includes geographic data, postcodes, transport data, corporate data and other business information. Accountability advocates will rather be interested in budget and spending data, legal information, and procedural items such as meeting minutes and reports.

Both movements have, throughout the course of their development, encountered comparable obstacles within government, with public bodies holding on to their old culture of secrecy and using arguments of privacy, national security, commercial secrecy, etc. to limit access to data and information. However, an extra layer of concerns seems to be raised by OGD on top of the accountability or reputation concerns associated with freedom of information. While the public bodies’ reluctance to allow access to information under freedom of information legislation mostly relates to their concern for being judged for their actions and decisions, their worries about OGD also involve the lack of quality of the data itself on the basis of which these actions and decisions are taken (Fioretti 2010, Deloitte 2012). On the other hand, OGD also targets public bodies that do hold high quality data (which are often not subject to the national freedom of information legislation, but to their own specific dissemination regime), and that see these data as a commodity to be exploited against high charges. These frictions are less related to freedom of information than to the debate on the commercial exploitation of public sector information (Janssen 2010).

In summary, while the ODG and RTI movements show many similar and/or compatible characteristics, different nuances and priorities seem to have grown throughout their development. In the next section, I look at some of the possible consequences of these nuances and priorities on the relationship between OGD and RTI and on the impact OGD can have on the more established, pre-existing right to information.

3.2. The impact of OGD on the right to information: a blessing or a curse?

Looking at the large amounts of government data that the OGD movement has opened up for public use, it is clear that it has had a large positive impact on the availability of public information, in this way broadly supporting the objectives of the RTI movement. OGD activists have created a significant momentum and raised worldwide attention concerning the wealth of data and information held by the public sector. This has opened many doors to datasets that would otherwise remain hidden and has made these datasets available to be used by anyone for any purpose. RTI activists have been able to join forces with OGD activists and take a big leap forward in transparency and open government. OGD has created an enthusiasm within many governments and public authorities that access to government information has never been able to achieve, helped by tangible results in the form of sometimes stunning visualisations and "cool" apps.

However, even though the OGD movement promotes the broader availability of public sector data, it does not necessarily improve access to information as envisaged by the RTI movement and freedom of information in general. As it is strongly oriented towards the physical, technical and financial availability of data, OGD does not offer much support for another important aspect of accessibility of information: i.e. the intellectual accessibility. Without the skills and knowledge to interpret the vast amount of datasets thrown at them, or any context surrounding the data, many citizens will not be able to make sense of these data. They will not benefit from OGD (see Davies 2010, Gurstein 2011, Halonen 2012) and, hence, they will not have full access to the information that can be extracted from these data.

Hence, it will be highly unlikely that the benefits of OGD for transparency, accountability and public participation will actually materialise in this setting. On the contrary, OGD may actually reinforce or enlarge existing inequalities in access to information – the distinction between the information-haves and the information-have-nots or the so-called ‘data divide’ Gurstein refers to in analogy with the much-discussed digital divide – and create an elite that can make use of the available datasets and that will hold an important power over other citizens (Gurstein 2011, 2011a). The growing attention for making available machine-readable data via portals may increase these inequalities even further. The danger arises that the focus of the public bodies, who have to make choices in assigning their limited time and resources, will move from making information available for a large audience to disseminating data to a small group of developers and activists, just because their cry for data is louder and the immediate rewards for government in terms of reputation and goodwill from the public will be better (Janssen, 2011). This might entail that the vast majority of the public would actually have less access to information, because they do not have the technical knowledge and skills to use the data that is offered to them. In developing countries, this effect may be magnified by the lack of available infrastructure or hardware (Gigler et al. 2011).

Obviously, this should not deter public authorities from opening up their data, but it should rather make them aware of the shift in information power (Darch and Underwood 2009) and of their existing responsibilities to provide information to the public, and encourage them to balance their obligations relating to RTI and OGD. In all fairness, the same criticism could also apply to the RTI movement: many citizens will also not be aware of their right to request information from their public authorities, and it could be claimed that access legislation also only benefits the small part of the public that is already equipped with sufficient knowledge about governmental processes and ways to participate in them (Hazell et al. 2010).  

In many cases, the OGD community will play an intermediary role and create applications, visualisations or other tools that translate the data into the information needed by the broader public. Governments might be cautioned against over-reliance on these intermediaries, as their primary goal may not always be to give the public objective information, but rather trying to prove their point with data (activists) or create commercial opportunities (entrepreneurs and companies). Interpretations and representations of information hold value judgments (Davies 2010) and if these activists and companies are relied upon to transfer information to the public, they hold an important power and responsibility. If this power were to be misused, open data risks the creation of an illusion of transparency and accountability, while in reality causing information inequality and a disempowerment of the citizens.

While the main danger of activists’ misuse of data lies in a possible lack of objectivity or the provision of one-dimensional information, commercial companies may be tempted to create an information dependency for citizens by charging high prices for access to the provided information. In the era of ‘big data’, the easy availability of processing power, server space, software and tools will also give a limited number of big companies a significant advantage, in this way creating information oligopolies or even monopolies. Slee refers to this phenomenon as the open government data doppelgänger (Slee 2012). While a discussion about the responsibility of these data intermediaries certainly needs to be held (Mayer-Schonberger and Zappia 2011), it remains the responsibility of government to prevent this phenomenon from happening and to make sure that access to information and access to data are truly empowering, e.g. by providing more education on the role of data and information in our society (Halonen 2012).12

The previous paragraphs assume that government is sincerely interested in increasing transparency by providing access to OGD, but that this goodwill may have some negative effects. If we take another line of reasoning and do not assume goodwill on the part of government, the focus on the active dissemination of datasets may be seen as being possibly used as a tool rather to distract attention from providing information to the public or creating transparency. Open data portals are, for instance, an easy tool for a government to use to promote the perception of transparency, while it may only be a collection of data that was already available; but that is now brought together in one place, and that is not in any way an answer to the governance or transparency challenges that are being posed (Yu and Robinson 2012).

Active dissemination allows the public body to choose which data it makes available first, in this way controlling what it shows the public or allowing it to possibly limit what useful datasets it wishes to make available (Halonen 2012). This also assumes that the government knows what the public wants. If active dissemination is increasingly replacing access on request, public authorities will no longer have a clear idea as to what the public is interested in and they will have to look for other channels to get feedback on the usefulness of the data they are publishing. Many public authorities have no contact with their users or any clear idea of who their users might be. A number of public authorities have already been involving hackers and developers in choosing priority datasets, but the problem remains that these hackers and developers generally do not form a representative image of the entire possible user community. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the public authorities are even interested in what the public wants: they may feel that their job is done with just formally fulfilling the requirements imposed on them by central government and ‘ticking the open data box’ by making some datasets available, regardless of their value for the public. This relates to the lack of a rights-based approach to OGD: it has been argued that this allows governments to hide behind promises to release more data ( 2011).

4. Conclusions

This paper has attempted to give an overview of the main aspects of the OGD movement on the one hand and the RTI movement on the other hand. While it is clear that both movements are closely related, they each have their own focus and priorities. These differences hold the risk that OGD may actually have a negative impact on the right to information. Therefore, it is essential that the OGD movement and RTI movement create an open debate about their objectives and possible mutual benefits, and join forces in ensuring that both RTI and OGD actually meet their aims of increasing transparency.

This would also provide an important signal to the policymakers, whose OGD and RTI agenda is often still developed separately, and sometimes even with contradictory outcomes. For instance, both the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are frontrunners in the process of opening up government data. However, their attitude towards the right to information is not nearly as enthusiastic. Both countries have indicated that they will not sign the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (even though the provisions of this Convention are directed towards fairly low-level common denominator obligations for the Council of Europe Member States), and their national Freedom of Information Act are under discussion. In the Netherlands, a proposal for amending the Freedom of Information legislation was submitted by the Minister for Internal Affairs, making it easier for government officials to refuse ‘unreasonable’ requests for information in relation to the efforts they would have to spend in answering these requests. At the same time, it promotes OGD by enabling the use of government information for apps.13 In the UK, the government has published its Open Data White Paper, strongly committing itself to supporting OGD (Cabinet Office 2012), and at the same time it is questioning the functioning of the Freedom of Information Act.14 This Freedom of Information Act was changed in May 2012 by the Protection of Freedoms Act, influenced by thoughts concerning open data: it now contains a ‘right to data’, clarifying that, in so far as possible, data sets requested under the Act should be provided in a format which is capable of re-use (read: in a machine-readable format).15

Another example is the European Union. At the end of 2011, the European Commission announced its open data strategy, promoting open data as indispensable for a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy, and for increasing transparency and accountability (European Commission 2011). The words of the Commission had hardly gone cold when it became clear that the negotiations on the amendment of the Regulation on access to documents from the European Institutions would be stopped because the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament could not find agreement on the changes.16 In the negotiations, it was actually the Commission that tried to limit the field of application of the Regulation. A reason for these conflicting attitudes might be that governments and public bodies feel that they have more control over their OGD activities, because these are based on their own initiatives, while the access legislation obliges them to comply with requests for information, based on formal legislation. However, this also raises the question of how far OGD efforts of governments are indeed just window-dressing to divert attention from their obligations to guarantee the public’s right to information.

In this perspective, the words of UK Cabinet Minister Francis Maude’s that he’d “like to make FOI redundant” may be a source of concern.17 If he is assuming that publishing datasets online is a sufficient alternative for access to information, he is disregarding the aspect of intellectual accessibility and relying on some of the assumptions mentioned above, i.e. that intermediaries will ensure the contextualizing and visualising of the data into information (see also Davies 2010). Rather than assuming that OGD can replace RTI, both movements should be seen as complementary: cooperation between OGD and RTI would bring together the extensive experience of the RTI movement with its rights-based discourse and the technical skills and media awareness of the OGD movement. In order to ensure that OGD and RTI actually increase transparency and accountability, but also innovation and economic growth, they should be part of an integrated policy that pays attention to what the citizens – i.e. the end-users – need in terms of data and information.

5. Acknowledgement

I would like to thank Helen Darbishire for her input during multiple discussions on the topic. My thanks also go to the reviewers of this paper, for their helpful and insightful comments.

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7. Footnotes

1 Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States. See


2 See


3 See


4 See


5 See


6 The definition of ‘open’ that is most used in this respect is the Open Knowledge Foundation’s definition: “A piece of content or data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike”. (see


7 These terms are often used interchangeably in literature and policy. However, I will try to only refer to ‘the right to information’ or ‘access to government information’, as ‘freedom of information’ also has a different, broader meaning as part of the human right of freedom of expression (cf. infra). However, the term may be used when referring to national legislation or specific documents using the term ‘freedom of information’ as an equivalent for access to government information.


8 Even though in the 4th century B.C. it was already recognised that written records were important for holding government accountable (Martin and Lanosga 2010, Mason 2000).


9 Except for the Finnish and United States legislation on access to information, respectively in 1951 and 1966.


10 Cf. infra.




12 Even though the impression may be given that OGD in practice does not increase transparency and is a danger to the right to information, it should also be immediately admitted that the impact of access legislation and the right to information itself on transparency or democracy has also been very difficult to measure. See for instance research from Hazel and Worthy (2011), and Darch and Underwood (2009).  


13 See


14 See;;  


15 See


16 See The Regulation has been picked up again by the Cypriot Presidency of the Council.


17 See


The Journal of Community Informatics. ISSN: 1712-4441