During its first session in 1946, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 59: ‘Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.’ Now, we can fit the entirety of human knowledge in our back pockets, our holiday destinations are decided by cookies, and some of you may even be reading this on your fridge. We’re living in a digital age, and information is supreme.
To enable and protect access to this information, CYRILLA has teamed up with the Global Right to Information (RTI) Rating publish their collection of national right to information laws on our database. The Global RTI Rating, a collaborative project between the Centre for Law and Democracy and Access Info Europe, assesses and compares the strength of national right to information laws based on certain indicators, as well as providing access to these laws. The quality and reliability of the RTI Rating has been recognized by numerous leading access to information experts, and it is regularly relied upon by a range of both official and civil society actors. By publishing the collection on CYRILLA, we hope to contextualize right to information law within the broader digital rights law movement.
At least 120 countries boast right to information laws, which provide for access to information held by public authorities, including institutional data, financial records, and environmental assessment reports. The results are encouraging: In Brazil, government departments began publishing their budgets online, which allowed media and citizens to track their spending against the programs they were scheduled to implement. The effort led to the exposure of state corruption and resulted in a number of public officials being investigated and removed from office. In another case, poor students in India gained admission to schools after local NGOs enquired about the availability of seats reserved for children from low-income families. With the information about how power is exercised by their governments, people can demand it be exercised as it should.
This isn’t to say right to information laws are the straightforward solution to holding corrupt, authoritarian regimes accountable. Unfortunately, in many countries, enforcement of these laws often falls short of the desired standard. Governments are known to circumvent access to information due to “national security” concerns, and persecute journalists who facilitate this access as well.
By publishing the RTI Collection, CYRILLA allows users to connect national right to information laws with relevant court cases decided before and after their implementation, providing more insight into their real-world effectiveness. Users can further compare a country’s right to information laws against its Constitution and other laws which impact or limit access. We are also uploading analyses of national right to information laws by academics and think-tanks in, to better inform advocacy campaigns, research, and strategic litigation efforts.
Toby Mendel, the Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy, is hopeful about the collaboration: “The RTI Rating is happy to collaborate with CYRILLA as we see this as a mutually beneficial partnership. For our part, we expand the range of relevant resources available through CYRILLA, while they help take our invaluable resources to new audiences. This, in turn, should help to promote strong right to information laws in countries around the world.”