Definitions: Speaking the Same Language

There are sev­er­al def­i­n­i­tions and com­mon usages in cir­cu­la­tion for each of the three major con­cepts con­cern­ing infor­ma­tion rights issues. In its work, CIIPS draws on the def­i­n­i­tions below.

Freedom of Information (“FOI”)

In the broad­est sense, free­dom of infor­ma­tion is the public’s right to a free flow of infor­ma­tion in soci­ety. This includes our rights of free­dom of expres­sion and access to infor­ma­tion with­out undue restric­tions imposed by gov­ern­ment, cor­po­ra­tions, or oth­er enti­ties.

The term FOI is also used in a nar­row­er sense to mean the individual’s right of access to gov­ern­ment records and infor­ma­tion.

Privacy and Privacy Protection

Pri­va­cy, as we define it, is the abil­i­ty or right to have a “pri­vate life” — to be left alone, free from ille­gal or unwant­ed scruti­ny and intru­sions.

Pri­va­cy rights include infor­ma­tion­al pri­va­cy — the right to con­trol or lim­it the col­lec­tion, use, shar­ing, and dis­clo­sure of one’s own per­son­al infor­ma­tion by oth­er agen­cies, whether they are part of gov­ern­ment or the pri­vate sec­tor.

Since knowl­edge brings pow­er to those who pos­sess it, knowl­edge of our pri­vate lives tends to increase the pow­er and influ­ence that gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions have over us. Some lim­its must be imposed in order to main­tain the del­i­cate bal­ance of pow­er that sus­tains our democ­ra­cy.

Pri­va­cy pro­tec­tion” means defence of the pri­va­cy of indi­vid­u­als by leg­is­la­tion, pol­i­cy, tech­nol­o­gy, or oth­er means.

Information Rights

Both FOI and pri­va­cy rights increase the pow­er of the indi­vid­ual in soci­ety, which is why we refer to both of them as “infor­ma­tion rights.”

Infor­ma­tion rights pro­vide indi­vid­u­als with a much-need­ed coun­ter­bal­ance to the far greater access to, and con­trol of, infor­ma­tion enjoyed by gov­ern­ments and oth­er pow­er­ful orga­ni­za­tions. Infor­ma­tion rights improve our democ­ra­cy by reduc­ing this imbal­ance of pow­er in a soci­ety that is increas­ing­ly dom­i­nat­ed by the uses and abus­es of infor­ma­tion.

Fur­ther, our right as indi­vid­u­als to know what is going on in soci­ety must exist in bal­ance with the right to indi­vid­ual pri­va­cy.

Togeth­er, infor­ma­tion rights help to cre­ate:

  • an informed elec­torate,
  • open, hon­est and account­able gov­ern­ment,
  • greater cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion in the demo­c­ra­t­ic process, and
  • greater pro­tec­tion of indi­vid­ual human rights.

Open Government

Open gov­ern­ment doc­trine holds that cit­i­zens have the right to access the doc­u­ments and pro­ceed­ings of the gov­ern­ment to allow for effec­tive pub­lic over­sight. In its broad­est con­struc­tion it oppos­es the use of “nation­al inter­est” argu­ments to rou­tine­ly restrict pub­lic access to infor­ma­tion and legit­imize exten­sive state secre­cy. Open gov­ern­ment con­cepts date from the Euro­pean Enlight­en­ment debates about the prop­er con­struc­tion of the new­ly emerg­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety.

An inter­est­ing recent devel­op­ment in open gov­ern­ment dis­cus­sion is the the­o­ry of open source gov­er­nance. It aims to expand appli­ca­tion of demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples to enable inter­est­ed cit­i­zens to get more direct­ly involved in the leg­isla­tive process through the free soft­ware move­ment.

Open Data

Open data is data that is made freely avail­able to every­one in one or more open and acces­si­ble (gen­er­al­ly dig­i­tal) for­mats.  Open data should be avail­able to every­one to use and repub­lish as they wish, with­out restric­tions from copy­right or oth­er mech­a­nisms of con­trol. It does not usu­al­ly include per­son­al infor­ma­tion sub­ject to pri­va­cy law or pro­tec­tion.

The ratio­nale behind open gov­ern­ment data can be con­sid­ered as twofold. First, advo­cates con­tend that mak­ing gov­ern­ment data avail­able to the pub­lic in open for­mats increas­es gov­ern­ment trans­paren­cy and account­abil­i­ty. Sec­ond, open data should enable third par­ties to lever­age the poten­tial of gov­ern­ment data through the devel­op­ment of appli­ca­tions and ser­vices that address pub­lic and pri­vate demands.

Open data is some­times con­fused with or merged into the idea of open gov­ern­ment. In fact, it is only one aspect of open gov­ern­ment, albeit a very impor­tant one.

Media Democracy

Wikipedia defines media democ­ra­cy as a set of ideas advo­cat­ing reform­ing the mass media, strength­en­ing pub­lic ser­vice broad­cast­ing, and devel­op­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in alter­na­tive media and cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism.

Media democ­ra­cy con­cepts include use of new media tech­nolo­gies to increase cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion in jour­nal­ism and pub­lic dis­course in order to pro­mote demo­c­ra­t­ic health through the spread of rarely dis­cussed ideas, growth of non-cor­po­rate media sources and reduc­tion of media con­cen­tra­tion, and turn audi­ences into active par­tic­i­pants to increase the diver­si­ty of per­spec­tives and bet­ter reflect society’s make-up.