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Is anyone asking?

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Martin Rosenbaum | 14:46 UK time, Monday, 28 September 2009

International FOI campaign logoIt's International Right to Know day.

The world's information commissioners are meeting in Oslo, while amongst other global happenings to mark this event later this week there's a Right to Know Fun Walk in the Cayman Islands.

The Cayman Islands is one of the half-dozen places to have adopted a freedom of information law in the past year. This has brought the number of countries or territories with such legislation to 90.

But there's a huge difference between the existence of a legal right of access to state information and many people actually making use of it. This is confirmed by a recent analysis of these 90 laws by the Dutch FOI researcher Roger Vleugels.

He shows that for around half the countries for which statistics are available, the annual number of information requests is less than one per 100,000 inhabitants.

The UK as a whole comes eighth in his league table of requests per inhabitant, and he puts Scotland with its own FOI Act, ninth. Other countries with active cultures of asking for information include Mexico, Japan and Ireland.

While noting that there are issues about the true international comparability of the figures, it still seems clear there is one state with much the highest rate of formal FOI requesting - and that is the USA.

The right to know is one thing - actually asking questions is another.


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