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Eastern Europe and Latin America hit the spotlight in FOIs

Mauricio Savarese |

This interview was originally published on interhacktives.com. It is cross-posted here with the kind permission of the author.

Countries that had dictators in power until very recently are now prominent when it comes to new Freedom of Information Acts. The UK system trusts heavily on the press to work. This is the opinion of Fabiano Angelico, a specialist on transparency and a Guardian contributor. As a master in Public Administration, researcher and journalist, he has reported on the issue for years.

Interhacktives

How important is Britain in the FOI culture?

Fabiano Angelico 

Many countries had FOIs before the UK. The US and Sweden have a bigger background on this. However, in this century, one can say the UK has taken a bigger role, not only for the attention the British press gives to FOIs, but also the nation for co-chairing the Open Government Partnership, which involves everyone interested in transparency.

Interhacktives

Which countries have developed FOI successfully in the last years? Why?

Angelico

Surprisingly, newly established democracies, like those in Eastern Europe and Latin America, have hit the spotlight. In a unbiased analysis of the Act itself, Serbia has the best one. Mexico and El Salvador are among the top 10 according to a very respected institute. I think that is for the fact younger democracies get inspired in laws passed in Europe and America so they can adjust to modernity. The problem in these countries is the frail institutions, so the Act isn’t enforced as it should. That is why the US, Scandinavian countries and the UK are still the top of the line overall. The Scandinavians have a long running practise of transparency. The US has a few decades of FOIs behind them, it was started in the sixties and since Richard Nixon’s resignation it only got better. The UK does great because of the press, their role in OGP and the discussions Sir Tim Berners-Lee have arisen on open data.

Interhacktives

Was is the best asset transparency wise that Britain can show to the world?

Angelico

Other systems could clearly be inspired in the ICO (Information Commissioner Office). That is what makes FOI requests be replied. It gives the references so the Act is complied with and it also brings about great policies in publishing the results of the requests. That doesn’t mean the FOI system in Britain works perfectly, but this is one is a good asset.

Interhacktives

What is the biggest challenge to transparency in the countries that have FOIs?

Angelico

It is to ensure FOIs are replied and make that right be used by those who are underprivileged.

Interhacktives

How have FOIs changed public agents in the world? Can you name a few examples?

Angelico

This is an ongoing process, it is difficult to be measured. But I would say bottom line is FOIs make society know their governments a little better and governments notice how important social control is. It is important not only for democracy, but also to reduce the costs of supervision.