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    European Information Commissioners Network proposed

    (13th January 2015)

    A group of the delegates attending the European Conference of Information Commissioners, Edinburgh 2-4 November.

    Delegates attending the European Conference of Information Commissioners in Edinburgh 2-4 November 2014 have supported the establishment of a European Network. 

    The event organised by the Centre for Freedom of Information saw 35 delegates support the exchange of professional experience or concerns, including 

    • dealing with chronic failure by authorities to respond to requests.
    • accessing disputed information in the course of investigation.
    • application of FoI to official information exchanged by personal emails.
    • validity of request made by social media.
    • relationship between FoI and data protection. 

    Arising from the conference in Edinburgh, it was recognised in particular that the Aarhus Convention and the EC Directive of Access to Environmental Information provides a common framework for most Commissioners in Europe. In particular there is scope to press for the provisions of the Convention/ Directive to apply to private bodies carrying out public functions. 

    More broadly there could be concerted initiative taken by European Commissioners to press for such private bodies to be brought within the scope of FoI laws generally. 

    Another potential initiative would be to press Governments in Europe to sign the Convention on Access to Official Documents CETS No.: 205 (the Tromso Convention) which was passed by the Council of Europe in 2009 but which has not yet come into force. (Before it can enter into force it needs 10 ratifications. Currently there are only 6.) 

    It was agreed that a European Commissioners conference should be held every two years (in between the International Conference of Information Commissioners). A number of Commissioners expressed a willingness to host the next such event – including Berlin, Brandenburg, Croatia and Hungary.’

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    Latest International Survey of Information Commissioners published

    (13th November 2014)

    The latest International Survey of Information Commissioners, conducted by the Centre for Freedom of Information, has been published (17 November 2014). Some of the key findings, from the survey responses provided by 53 Commissioners/ Ombudsman in 33 countries, are:

    How well do authorities comply with Commissioners decisions?
    85% of Commissioners, who can order disclosure or otherwise require compliance with their decisions, say that authorities always comply or compliance occurs in a significant majority of cases.

    By contrast, none of the Commissioners who can only make recommendations reported that their decisions were always complied with, and only 45% said that compliance occurs in a significant majority of cases.

    Are requests using social media valid?
    Commissioners have widely varying views as to whether requests made using social media can ever be regarded as valid. 35% felt that generally such requests would be valid; 30% said they could never be valid. Many Commissioners had not yet had to deal with an appeals regarding refusal of such a request, which perhaps explains why 25% said they did not know if they were valid or not.

    Should some private bodies/NGOs be made subject to access to information laws?
    Nearly two thirds (63%) of Commissioners said there were private bodies/NGOs carrying out public functions or receiving public funds in their country, which should be made subject to the access to information law. The report details some of those bodies specifically identified in Australia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, New Zealand, and the UK. Often they are bodies providing education, energy, or health care.

    The full report, which also deals with the volume of appeals, adequacy of Commissioners resources, investigative  powers of Commissioners and unreasonable requests is available below.

    e-Documents:

    98364000_1415912545.pdf

    CentreFoI provides expert input to drafting of Georgia's FoI Law

    (30th June 2014)

    Kevin DunionKevin Dunion was invited to Georgia to provide expert advice and review, as discussions on drafting a FoI law reach an advanced stage.

    Hosted by the Ministry of Justice and the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information, and supported by Open Society Georgia Foundation, his 5 day visit included meetings with the First Deputy Minister for Justice; government officials; members of parliament; the Personal Data Protection Inspector, Public Defenders Office.

    Prominent amongst the key issues being addressed in these meetings, and also in presentations made to a roundtable conference of the Anti – Corruption Council, was whether there should be an independent Commissioner and if so what functions and powers should the post have.

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    Croatia Commissioner's conference on restrictions to the right to information

    (29th May 2014)

    Anamarija Musa, the new Croatian Information Commissioner, hosted a conference, with the support of the British Embassy in Zagreb (29 May 2014) to consider the nature and interpretation of restrictions to the right to information in European FoI laws.

    Amongst the issues discussed were confidential information; personal data; and intellectual property rights.

    Kevin Dunion of the CentreFoI was one of the international speakers, alongside contributors from government, judiciary, media, and civil society.





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    OGP Europe Regional Conference, Dublin, 8-9 May 2014

    (8th May 2014)

    OGP ATI Working Group

    The OGP Access to Information Working Group organised one of the official  parallel sessions on the agenda of the OGP Regional Meeting in Dublin to discuss "Access to Information Commitments in OGP Action Plans: experience and ideas".

    Speakers were

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    Contributions to the constitutional debate in Scotland

    (28th March 2014)

    The Scottish Government has announced that it will produce a draft interim Constitution before the Parliamentary recess. The potential inclusion of a right to information, applying to those bodies carrying out public functions or providing public services at arms length from public authorities, is discussed in 2 constitutional blog posts by Professor Dunion.
     
    1. The interim Scottish Constitution: ensuring a wide right to information
     
    http://futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/interim-scottish-constitution-ensuring-wide-right-information
     
    2. Freedom of Information- what difference might constitutional change make?

    http://www.scottishconstitutionalfutures.org/OpinionandAnalysis/ViewBlogPost/tabid/1767/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/3192/Kevin-Dunion-Freedom-of-Information--What-Difference-Might-Scottish-Constitutional-Change-Make.aspx

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    Brazil's Ombudsman-General joins International Advisory Board

    (28th March 2014)

    We are delighted that Dr. José Eduardo Romão, the Federal Ombudsman-General of Brazil has accepted an invitation  to join the CentreFoI International Advisory Board. Dr Romão is responsible for dealing with appeals against refusals by Federal bodies to provide information requested under Brazil's access to information law. His office also promotes good practice.

    He holds a doctorate in public law, having specialised in human rights and is a prize winning author of a book on Procedural Justice. He has held a number of senior positions in public administration, including director of the Department of Justice and with the Attorney- General.

    Meanwhile two members of the IAB have ended their terms of office as Information Commissioners , Jacqueline Peschard, IFAI , Mexico and Jennifer Dilbert, Cayman Island and we thank them for their very active support  in establishing and promoting the Information Commissioners' International Exchange Network.

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    OGP UK Progress Report published

    (28th March 2014)

    The Open Government Partnership's Independent Review Mechanism has published a report on the progress made by UK Government to deliver on its action plan commitments . Professor Kevin Dunion of the Centre for Freedom of Information was commissioned to conduct the research.  

    http://www.opengovpartnership.org/country/united-kingdom

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    CentreFoI helps launch new working group at Open Government Partnership Summit, London

    (7th November 2013)

    The Centre for Freedom of Information is a founding member of a new OGP Working Group on Access to Information, which was officially launched at the Open Government Partnership Annual Summit held in London 31 October – 1 November.

    The objective of the ATI WG is “to become a resource to help governments throughout the OGP process to design and implement effective, ambitious OGP commitments in access to information and disclosure of meaningful government information, and to support the engagement of all key stakeholders including access to information oversight bodies and civil society.” The objective of the ATI WG is “to become a 

    The founding ‘anchor’ bodies are from Mexico (Federal Institute for Access to Information), Brazil (Office of the Comptroller General), Indonesia (Central Information Commission), alongside The Carter Center, the Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información, and the Centre for Freedom of Information.

    Kevin Dunion, Executive Director of CentreFoI, presented the results of our surveys which showed that whilst 79% of Commissioners and oversight bodies want to be more involved in the OGP processes in their country, 42% report that they have hardly any or no involvement thus far. The key role which the Centre FoI seeks to play is to assist Commissioners in engaging with the creation and review of national action plans and to help deliver relevant commitments. 

    The packed launch meeting attracted Ministers and representatives from member governments, international bodies and civil society organisations. Rosemary Agnew the Scottish Information Commissioner was present at the launch along with Commissioners from Brazil. Canada, Chile, Honduras, Mexico, and the UK.

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    Berlin Commissioner, Dr. Alexander Dix, joins CentreFoI International Advisory Board

    (7th November 2013)

    We are delighted to welcome Dr Alexander Dix, the Berlin Data Protection and Freedom of Information Commissioner, who has joined the Centre for Freedom of Information International Advisory Board.

    He was elected as Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information by the Berlin State Parliament (Germany) for the first time in June 2005. Previously he had been Commissioner in the State of Brandenburg for seven years.

    He chairs the International Working Group on Data Protection in Telecommunications (“Berlin Group”) and is a member of the Art. 29 Working Party of European Data Protection Supervisory Authorities.

    With a Master of Laws degree from London University and a Doctorate in law from Hamburg University, Alexander has published extensively on issues of data protection and freedom of information. Currently he is a co-editor of the German Yearbook on Freedom of Information and Information Law.

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    CentreFoI survey results presented to International Conference of Information Commissioners

    (30th September 2013)

    The bi-annual International Conference of Information Commissioners was held in Berlin 18-20 September.  A presentation on the results of surveys of Commissioners conducted the Centre for Freedom of Information this year was made by Kevin Dunion. A report on the finding has now been published, entitled 'In the Experience of Information Commissioners' and is available to view below.

    e-Documents:

    66409500_1380552468.pdf

    Open Government Partnership

    (30th September 2013)

    The Centre for Freedom of Information is to be a founding member of a new Access to Information working group which will be formally established at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London on 31 October.

    The aims of the working group include :

    - Support OGP participating countries to develop and implement ambitious commitments on access to information.

    - Foster knowledge and experience exchanges among countries on issues related to the implementation of access to information legislation.  

    - Promote active engagement of ATI oversight and implementation bodies around the world in national OGP processes. 
      
    The Working Group will be led by the governments of Mexico (Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection-IFAI), Brazil (General Comptroller -CGU), and Indonesia (Central Information Commission) along, with the Regional Alliance for Freedom of Expression, The Carter Center, and the Centre for Freedom of Information.

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    Progress Report on OGP  Implementation in UK

    (30th September 2013)

    A new report, drafted by Kevin Dunion, on OGP Implementation in the UK has been published.  The research was carried out on behalf of the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism  which is tasked with assessing the extent to which the commitments made in national OGP action plans have been implemented.  

    The report found that the UK national action plan had been largely crafted out of existing government Open Data commitments given previously. Some of the more radical proposals had been withdrawn or substantially altered. For example a proposed ‘right to data sets’ was not carried into effect and a plan to create inventory of data held by the government departments was found to be impractical. However other initiatives such as sectoral Transparency Boards had increased access to data, as had the portal data.gov.uk. A new UK action plan is due to be launched at the OGP Summit on 31 October. 

    The Independent Reporting Mechanism United Kingdom Progress Report 2011-2013 is available on-line here.

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    Three new members of International Advisory Board appointed

    (5th June 2013)

    We are delighted to welcome Jennifer Dilbert , Cayman Islands Commissioner, Alejandro Ferreiro Yazigi, Commissioner, Chile  and James Popple, Freedom of Information Commissioner, Australia who have all recently joined our International Advisory Board.

    This strengthens our regional presence across the globe and deepens the diversity of experience upon which we can draw.

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    CentreFoI Director  delivers keynote speech in Santiago, Chile

    (5th June 2013)

    Kevin Dunion delivered the keynote speech at the Fourth International Transparency Seminar, Chile (24 April 2013) . Billed as a 'masterclass',  he warned the 500 delegates of a "clash of expectations which has led to some in authority adopting an attitude of dutiful if unenthusiastic compliance, and often resentful of FOI as a burden."

    As a consequence subsequent amendments to FoI laws may narrow the right to information or introduce obstacles such as charges. However drawing upon case studies he showed how individual requests, which challenged authorities, can subsequently lead to positive changes in service delivery and more routine openness in health, education and procurement.

    For more information please click here.

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    First international survey of Information Commissioners shows concern over increased appeals and reduced resources

    (8th April 2013)

    First international survey of Information Commissioners shows concern over increased appeals and reduced resources. 

    The first international survey of Information Commissioners conducted by the Centre for Freedom of Information found that :  

    • Overall 76% of Commissioners expect the number of appeals which they will receive this year (2013) to ‘increase substantially ‘(27%) or ‘slightly’ (49%). None expect the number to decline.
    • In terms of their capacity to deal with current and projected workloads, 77% of Commissioners believe that their financial and staff resources, are ‘insufficient ‘(58%) or ‘not at all sufficient’ (19%).
    • The reported time taken to deal with appeals also varies significantly. The shortest reported average time taken to dispose of cases is 3 days; the longest time is 380 days. 

    The survey was carried out by the Centre for Freedom of Information, University of Dundee as part of a project to establish an International Exchange Network for Information Commissioners. Kevin Dunion, Executive Director of the Centre, who was formerly the Scottish Information Commissioner said “ It is important for Commissioners to be able to share experience and knowledge. We can learn from good practice but also respond to challenges to the capacity of Commissioners to carry out their functions.”

    Commissioners were also asked if they were legally qualified, in the light of a decision by the Supreme Court of India requiring Chief Commissioners there to be retired judges.

    Just over half (51.5%) of Commissioners who responded were said to be qualified lawyers or judges (the distinction was not made in the question or response); 48.5% are not legally qualified. 

    Furthermore, the responses show that 45% of statutes in the jurisdictions concerned do not make any requirement at all regarding the qualifications or experience of those appointed as Commissioner.

    The survey looked at the practice amongst Commissioners in investigating appeals and making public their decisions

    Before coming to a decision on an appeal Commissioners regularly require the authority/agency to provide the information which has been withheld from the requester, with over half (51.5%) saying that they ‘always’ do so with a further 36.4% indicating that they ‘usually’ do so.
    The overwhelming majority (94%) of respondents usually publish their decisions either because they are required to do so by law or because they choose to do so as a matter of practice.
    However the practice of Commissioners is split on whether to share a draft decision or preliminary conclusion with the authority and/or requester, prior to issuing a final determination. A majority (57.6%) do not do so, but nearly 40% do share with both parties and a further 3% make a draft available to the authority only. 


    Ends 

    For further information contact:

    Professor Kevin Dunion, Executive Director, Centre for Freedom of Information, University of Dundee k.dunion@dundee.ac.uk

    Notes 

    The survey was carried out between 6 February and 24 March and responses were received from 34 Commissioners.

    The Centre for Freedom of Information is based at the University of Dundee, Scotland. 

    The International Information Commissioners Exchange Network is assisted by funding from the Open Society Foundations

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    New Member of International Advisory Board

    (7th April 2013)

    Shailesh Gandhi, former Information Commissioner with the Central Information Commission, India (2008 - 2012) has joined the International Advisory Board of the Centre for Freedom of Information.

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    First international survey of Commissioners launched

    (18th February 2013)

    The Centre has launched its first survey of Information Commissioners and Ombudsmen as part of the International Commissioners Exchange Network project.

    The benchmark survey is intended to share data on how Commissioners go about their role.

    The survey includes questions asking: 

    • Are the number of appeals received increasing or decreasing?
    • How long on averages does it  take to deal with appeals?
    • What powers are available to Commissioners to investigate appeals and to what extent are these are being used?
    • Are draft decisions  shared with authorities and/or applicants , and are final decisions published?
    • What are the financial and staff resources available , and are these adequate? 
    • What are the terms of the appointment of the Commissioner?
    The survey can be completed by any official body which has been established to respond to appeals or complaints, submitted following requests made under a law giving a right to information and within any distinct jurisdiction e.g.
    federal, national, state, province. 

    The survey can be found at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CentreFOISurvey

    Scheduled date for return of responses; 8 March 2013

    For more information contact : Kevin Dunion,  k.dunion@dundee.ac.uk

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    Prof. Dunion appointed to World Bank Appeals Board

    (29th November 2012)

    Professor Kevin Dunion has been appointed to the World Banks Access to Information (AI) Appeals Board.

    The AI Appeals Board considers appeals claiming that the World Bank has improperly or unreasonably restricted access to information that it would normally disclose under its Access to Information Policy, 

    The AI Appeals Board is an independent second-stage of appeals and consists of three outside experts selected by the President of the World Bank and endorsed by the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank. Members to the AI Appeals Board are appointed to serve a two-year term subject to renewal.

    The new Board meets in Washington DC 10-13 December.

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    New Liberian Commissioner visits Scotland

    (29th November 2012)

    Mark Freeman , the newly appointed Information Commissioner for Liberia visited the offices of the Scottish Information Commissioner in St Andrews and the UK Information Commissioner  in Wilmslow, on a fact -finding mission in preparation for establishing his office in Monrovia.  Mr. Freeman’s tour to the UK, which also included meetings with FoI specilaist in the Scottish Governmnet, Scottish Parliament and University of Edinburgh,  was funded by the Carter Center. 
     

    Photo caption: Information Commissioners
    Mark Freeman and Rosemary Agnew

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    Commissioner input to OGP Networking Mechanism

    (29th November 2012)

    Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew participated in the Open Government Partnership Networking Mechanism Session in Dubrovnik , Croatia 4-5 October, where she described enforcement within the access to information context as “the key to change.” The purpose of the event was to ‘match’ representatives from 16 participating countries with experts, drawn largely from civil society.  

    http://www.opengovpartnership.org/news/networking-mechanism-report-access-information-session-dubrovnik-croatia-october-4-2012

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    Challenge to India's Supreme Court ruling on Commissioners

    (29th November 2012)

    India's Chief information Commissioner has warned that "excessive judicialisation" of information commissions could damage their functioning.

    This warning comes after a controversial decision of India's Supreme Court which ruled that the "Chief Information Commissioner at Centre or state level shall only be a person who is or has been achieved justice of the High Court or a judge of the Supreme Court of India." It also ruled that "the appointment of judicial members to any of these posts shall be made in consultation with Chief Justice of India and chief justices at the High Court of the respective states, as the case may be."

    Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra said "openness of approach, informality and stale and simplicity of systems have characterised the functioning of all the commissions. Excessive judicialisation of information commissions will deprive the commission of this flexibility."

    The Indian Government is said to be appealing the Supreme Court’s ruling.

    http://www.freedominfo.org/2012/10/indian-government-appeals-controversial-court-ruling/

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