International Right to Know Day: support FOIA4Italy!

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Today is International Right to Know Day, the day that celebrates the right to information. We are republishing a post from our friends at Diritto Di Sapere, an Italian organization which for some years now has been dedicated to protecting and expanding this basic right for all citizens.

While today the whole world is celebrating International Right to Know Day, Italy remains one of the few western democracies that still does not recognise this fundamental right.

Our objective along with the 31 other organisations that make up the coalition FOIA4Italy (Freedom of Information Act for Italy) is to have a Freedom of Information Act approved in Italy as well: a law allowing citizens wide-ranging access to information, data and documents from the public administration.

With the approval of the Public Administration Reorganisation Act in August 2015, the government received a mandate from Parliament to write an administrative order recognizing the right of citizens to ask for documents and information from the Public Administration. This means that we are close to our objective, but without a legislative decree (which must be approved within six months), Italy will remain at the tail end of rankings as far as access and transparency are concerned.

Here is what you’ll be able to do thanks to a Freedom of Information Act if Italy has the courage and the will to approve one.

  • Avoid terrible indigestion: In the UK, thanks to the possibility of accessing ministerial documents, today every one can learn which restaurants and bars have not met the basic standards of hygiene.
  • Prevent nuclear catastrophes: In 2006 in Britain a nuclear engineer received access to documents revealing dangerous defects in the nuclear reactor at Hinkley B. Repairs enacted, risk eliminated.
  • Learn if your doctor treats as well as she writes: In the United States, thanks to data received from the Freedom of Information Act, a directory of doctors’ integrity was able to be compiled. One step ahead in the fight against malpractice.
  • Learn whether the politician you voted for is lying: In the UK, the Freedom of Information Act made it possible to discover which parliamentarians still had their hands in the cookie jar. It’s no surprise this has encountered resistance in Italy…
  • Investigate connections between your favourite director and the CIA: Did Catherine Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty seem to legitimise torture on behalf of the CIA to you? Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, journalists were able to reconstruct close ties between the director and the secret services.
Reasons why we need the FOIA - Riparte il Futuro
Reasons why we need the FOIA – Riparte il Futuro

FOIA4Italy has launched a petition that is now close to collecting 35,000 signatures, and it has outlined 10 essential points for a Freedom of Information Act:

  1. All are granted the right to access without being required to provide reasons (eliminating those restrictions included in law n. 242/1990).
  2. All documents, acts, information and data formed, held or in any way possessed by a public subject may become access objects
  3. This not only applies to the Administration but to any affiliated companies as well as the managers of public services
  4. Responses from the Administration must be quick (max. 30 days)
  5. Any exceptions to access must be clearly explained
  6. Access to digital documents must be free (reproduction costs may not be applied)
  7. In the case of analogue acts and documents, only the actual cost of reproduction and eventual mailing may be applied
  8. Whenever access to a specific piece of information has been requested at least three distinct times, the administration must publish that information in the section “A Transparent Administration”
  9. In the case of a refusal of access, judicial and extrajudicial solutions must be both quick as well as reasonable for the applicant
  10. Penalties will be applied in the case of illegitimately denied access

On this day the international network of activists FOIAnet has asked: “How has the right to access information made a difference in your country?” We hope to be able to respond in the year to come with the stories of journalists, activists and citizens who have been able to benefit from a Freedom of Information Act here in Italy as well.