Improving Access to Information Laws around the World
There is a need for for a more holistic set of information and legal intelligence tools related to access to information (A2I) legal frameworks to support ongoing legal development, as well as facilitate understanding, monitoring, and compliance by non-lawyers. Access to Information is the lifeblood of open, transparent and just societies. It includes all laws and regulations that guarantee transparency and plays a vital role in ensuring accountability. It is a cornerstone of representative government, human rights and the rule of law. However, despite advances in many countries and the dedicated work of civil society, more than half the world still lives in jurisdictions with inadequate, inappropriate, or no legal framework for access to information.
Out of 239 countries, as many as 100 have no A2I legislation and there remains a strong emphasis on secrecy and privacy even in those considered more advanced. Legal Atlas will advance A21 through the development of the A2I toolkit.
This project will leverage existing materials, benchmarking and analyses as well as an existing online prototype to advance several knowledge development goals that together provide a practical and open source toolkit to support legislative development, monitoring, and compliance exercises on a global scale. These are:
- Comprehensive national, regional, and international legal frameworks: This part of the toolkit will build from existing open source compilations (comprising approx. 128 jurisdictions). It will also utilize the Legal Atlas cloud-based database to scale research capacity for the project. In addition to primary access, secrecy and privacy laws, it will include (where applicable) constitutions, administrative and criminal procedures, environmental impact assessment laws, land tenure, natural resource, whistleblower protections for an estimated 20-30 jurisdictions. The goal is to go beyond the compilation of primary laws to produce a full picture of all laws and legal procedures that define the practical realities for access to information, transparency and accountability for a select number of countries. This can include sub-national laws as well.
- Breakdowns and assessments against established benchmarks: This involves rendering legal documents into a relational database where laws and individual provisions can be ‘tagged’ for relevance to legal structures, principles, and benchmarks. Converting law into data will support several assessment, description, and information delivery purposes for the toolkit including: the breakdown of legal texts into key components; rapid cross-jurisdictional comparisons in the aggregate and by component; direct reference to controlling provisions; automated reference aids and tables of content, and the creation of a variety of visual analytics that digest complex information sets.
- Geo-referencing and map analytics to show patterns and relationships: A significant challenge to understanding law and legal frameworks is the abstract nature of law, the volume of material and the substantial fragmentation of a given subject between laws and across interrelated jurisdictions. Geo-referencing and map analytics are key tools to overcome these challenges. On a practical level, geo-referencing allows the automated display of information at all jurisdictional scales - global, multi-lateral, bi-lateral, supra-national, national, and local jurisdictions, enabling all types of vertical and horizontal comparisons. Map analytics help bring context to law and make it less abstract by enabling the automated and relational use of a wide variety of information and statistics, including data on socio-economic parameters (population, demand, trade, wealth, health, etc.) as well as environmental parameters (carbon emissions, air and water pollution indices, etc.). This permits a high level of evidence-based policy discussion and development that can be rapidly updated and amended to continuously test for patterns and relationships.
- Additional contextual information: The toolkit will also process, geo-reference, and tag other types of information to facilitate a fuller understanding of the subject. These include interrelated databases on key court decisions, government authorities implicated by A2I legal frameworks and positive and negative examples of black letter law, enforcement or adjudication identified by group members and outside experts as informative of the state of the law.
Although the immediate aim is to provide a comprehensive information set for use in Zimbabwe's efforts to improve its access to information legal framework, the ultimate goal and potential impact is much broader. Well over half the world's countries have either inadequate or no access to information legal frameworks. Citizens and governments will benefit directly from a database that not only compiles frameworks for other countries, but shows how they work, where they work and the impact they can have in society. For those countries with existing legislation, the database will serve as an informational service to help them use their laws to push for compliance and for improvements as needed.
This toolkit will strengthen the rule of law by providing:
- A comprehensive and interactive toolkit, available free online that makes the content, structure and key components of A2I law highly accessible to a broad audience, including lawyers, non-lawyers, government officials, journalists, universities, and civil society projects.
- Practical guidance on the evaluation of legislation to help support civil society efforts around the world to improve transparency and accountability.
- Evidence-based comparative assessments of legal frameworks.
- Direct and immediate input into the development of revised legislation in Zimbabwe.
- Practical assistance to investigative journalists in Eastern Europe with the potential to create a permanent A2I monitoring system through regular reporting and input by journalists.
- The opportunity to advance the A2I work of other organizations through linked open data systems, where Legal Atlas can share results through an API with institutions focusing on A2I at any scale and for any jurisdiction.
- Studies have shown that countries with A2I legislation are more responsive to information requests and that civil society is a key factor in the development and implementation of A2I laws.
Toolkit development will include representatives from the following:
- Legal Atlas
- Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
- Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
- Center for Investigative Reporting, Sarajevo
- Afghan Initiative for Peace and Development
- Public Participation for Sustainable Development, Mongolia
- The University of Montana
Platform development and launch: see http://www.youtube.com/LegalAtlas
Toolkit Testing will be accomplished by two group members:
- Group 1: The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, is presently involved in efforts to improve access to information legislation in their country. This group will be responsible for engaging in a variety of practical exercises that use the toolkit to inform legal drafting and support for policy decisions.
- Group 2: The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo, will facilitate the testing of the toolkit by reporters in several jurisdictions in Eastern Europe who have a constant need to access and understand A2I legislation in multiple jurisdictions, as well as the opportunity to publicize the state of the law as they encounter it.
Finally, Open Group testing of the toolkit will also be made available to other groups that have expressed an interest in the toolkit development process, but who will not be primary partners.
Program Countries:Zimbabwe, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Afghanistan and United States
Rule of Law Index Factors: Absence of Corruption (Factor 2), Open Government (Factor 3), and Order and Security (Factor 5).
Issue Areas: Education, Government, and Human Rights.