Today is International Right to Know Day. We are transparency activists from Canada, Colombia, Bulgaria, India and South Africa, here to talk about openness, secrecy and your right to know. Go on – Ask Us Anything!
• Centre for Law and Democracy (www.law-democracy.org), an NGO based in Canada that works globally to promote transparency, freedom of expression and digital rights. Over the past year, we have carried out work in Indonesia, Myanmar, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Morocco, among many other places.
• Open Democracy Advice Centre (www.opendemocracy.org.za), a South African specialist centre for access to information and whistleblowing, committed to seeing transparency in action.
• Shailesh Gandhi, formerly of India’s Central Information Commission and one of the world’s leading right to information activists.
• Dejusticia. a Colombian NGO that whose mandate is to strengthen and defend human rights.
• Access to Information Program (www.aip-bg.org/en/), a Bulgarian non-profit which has been working for nearly 20 years to improve access to information in Bulgaria and around the world.
September 28 is International Right to Know Day, and organisations around the world use the occasion to promote discussion and engagement on secrecy and open government. Today, 100 countries around the world have access to information laws in force, but in many places these are weak or poorly implemented.
We are passionate about government transparency, and eager to answer any questions you have about your right to know.
Edited 1: Because of the timezone issues, as well as conflicting Right to Know Day events that are taking place around the world, the different activists/organisations will be logging in and out. But there will be at least one person here answering for the entire day.
Edit 2: As of 12:15 - activists from all five countries are online. Great to see so many questions - I see you've pushed us onto the front page, we're angling for the top spot now! Proof is at: twitter.com/Law_Democracy/status/516196135732785152
Edit 3: Whelp, we've been at this for a solid eight hours, and I think it's time to call it a day. Thanks to everyone for participating - I think we all really enjoyed this experience, and I hope we've piqued your interest in the right to information. Please check out our website (www.law-democracy.org), as well as those of our partners above, and you can also find us on Twitter or on Facebook. Happy Right to Know Day Reddit - let's do this again next year.
That it is ultimately up to you to keep your government accountable. Activists and watchdogs can help, but ultimately the best and only thing to keep governments in line, at least in democracies, is popular will.
How can we trust these bodies when we keep seeing tough laws against whistleblowers/investigative journalism growing? I'm Australian and we just witnessed a disgraceful eroding of our rights and what can I or anyone do about it? Nothing. So how can we trust any organisation to reveal the truth when push comes to shove? What hope is there? All I'm seeing is erosion after erosion after erosion of civil liberties, it's been a relatively slow creep and I think it's hit the point of no return.
Circling back around to say - backsliding is one of the most disheartening things you encounter in this field. It's unbelievably frustrating when you see years, or decades of progress undone by a particularly pigheaded administration. But at the same time - you can't give up. We still have to live in this world tomorrow, which means we need to just keep pushing forward, and if there are setbacks, you just have to push harder.
There is no point of no return!
What can I do to help stop the Canadian government from muzzling our scientists? They have said that scientists can't talk about a subject until they've published a journal of it, meanwhile our politicians with zero expertise are allowed to spout any BS that will push their personal agendas.
Great question! The government of Canada is doing a consultation on open government, and this issue has come up. It's technically past the deadline, but you can tell them you want scientists to be able to speak freely at: http://data.gc.ca/eng/Open_Science.
Make your voice heard!
You are sounding like "token opposition" with that canned answer.
Don't you know what a "suggestion box" is for? Making it feel like you've had your wuttle say, while mostly used to profile and analyze their prey?
The Harper GovernmentTM is infamous for holding "public consultations" that are far less than transparent, for which they are very creative with the results of.
And so, that's your answer? tsk
I agree that false consultations are a hallmark of this government, and that powerful suggestions in a forum like that are likely to be ignored.
But if you don't engage - then it eliminates all pressure, all impetus for them to do anything at all, because they can point to the fact that nobody is complaining about openness and say that it justifies their approach.
Of course the consultations aren't that meaningful, but if you disengage, then they win.
I don't know if any of you have heard about this at all or not, but I'll describe the situation anyway.
Recently, my school district (Jefferson County, Colorado, USA) proposed a change to the AP History curriculum in our district. The proposal would change materials taught in class so that all materials, "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights." Also, "Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."
The full proposal can be found here: http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/files/9NYRPF6DED70/$file/JW%20PROPOSAL%20Board%20Committee%20for%20Curriculum%20Review.pdf
The students of my school district have been protesting this change greatly, as we believe it will lead to mass censorship of our education. Not many materials taught in an AP class fit the criteria given. We believe, however, that it is our right to know about our history. We need help getting this information out there. Media coverage is essential, and it seems that you would all have a lot to say about this.
A few stories by local papers can be found here and here.
Since I have to ask questions:
1) Have any of you been hearing about this situation?
2) How do you feel about the possible censorship of education?
3) Would you be willing to help us spread the word about this?
Yes, I've read about that. It's awful. I think the solution is greater voter engagement. The problem is that people don't turn out to vote for school board elections - even though these can be unbelievably important.
In terms of Centre for Law and Democracy's engagement - it's a little outside of our wheelhouse, since I wouldn't really classify it as a censorship or right to know issue - it's more about education, which is a separate (though crucially important) human right.
What is your opinion on the new national security laws in Australia that has been put in place due to fear of terrorist attacks from ISIS extremists. Do you think that these laws are a step back for transparency and democracy?
The new laws are absolutely atrocious. Over the past year, we've seen global outrage about the abuses carried out by western intelligence agencies, including Australia's. The idea that the government there is doubling down, rather than seeking to correct these problems, is very troubling indeed.
More specifically - any attempt to crack down on whistleblowers, and to make sure there are no future Snowdens - presents a very real threat to our mechanisms of accountability. Whistleblowing is a vital check on government abuses, and democratic states have a responsibility to protect, rather than prosecute, people who take personal risks to bring abusive behaviour to light.
I Live in the US. With congress being pretty much useless, the major isps doing everything they can to stop competition for providers, the nsa collecting everything on our computers and phones, the government and isps trying to limit our access to information and content, and a government that in general openly violates our rights for "security" what is the best thing that I as an individual can do to counter/stand up to all of this in an effective way?
Wow - you really laid it out. All of those issues - political gridlock and corruption, anti-competitive behaviour among ISPs, NSA abuses - are issues that trouble me as well. But I think it's important not to get jaded or feel that you're powerless in the face of this stuff. The only way the situation would actually be hopeless is if people succumb to those feelings and accept the status quo.
There are a lot of NGOs active in the US to fight these issues - CDT, the EFF, the ACLU - who you can support through your time or money. You can get politically engaged and make sure to vote, you can help spread the word on and offline (because online activism can make a difference, believe it or not). There's a range of options you can do to fight back.
My question is to Shailesh Gandhi . Do you think that e-governance brought in by Mr. MODI has brought in more transparency ?
Hi - Shailesh has been delayed and will join us in a couple of hours - but I'm sure he'll have an interesting answer on this one!
Which countries (if any) do you feel currently have the best records in terms of access to information and transparency? Are there existing versions of FoI legislation you think should become the gold standard, or is it all generally flawed?
It's not who you would expect! CLD actually has done a rating of the different RTI systems in the world, available at www.RTI-Rating.org, which shows that the best laws are from Serbia, Slovenia and India. India in particular is worth checking out, due to the transformative impact that law has had on the relationship between individuals and their governments.
All laws are flawed in some ways, but there are "gold standards" in the form of model legislation. The OAS has a model law on access to information here: http://www.oas.org/dil/access_to_information_model_law.htm, and there's another good one by Article 19, an NGO, here: http://www.article19.org/data/files/medialibrary/1796/model-freedom-of-information-law.pdf.
Another question for Shri SG
India hasn't had the internet revelation phenomenon like wikileaks. You can bet that there's a lot of uncomfortable data out there.
What are the impediments to the use of internet for transparency in india ?
Also , Is there a site where sensitive indian information could be accessed/published ?
Is there any question that you aren't allowed to answer?
Only that one.
Have you ever feared being arrested in some countries?
Do you think your organisation will have an effect on the US and the NSA?
What are your thoughts on withholding information "for the safety of the American people"? I never understood how not knowing keeps us safe.
Which countries have the biggest government secrets?
For me - not really. As an international person coming in, generally I'm not targeted. However, around the world RTI activists have faced significant threats. There's a whole wikipedia page on threats to RTI activists in India: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attacks_on_RTI_activists_in_India
Since the Snowden revelations, the NSA has actually faced a huge surge in FOI requests over the past year - and the greater scrutiny will certainly have an impact on policy.
There can be legitimate reasons to keep information secret. Of course I shouldn't be allowed to get the names of undercover drug informants. But generally these exceptions are massively overused to hide mundane or embarrassing information.
What are countries you see in very bad situation when it comes to transparency?
As of a few weeks ago, 100 countries have right to information laws. Which is great - but of course that means that there are a hundred countries which don't have right to information laws - including the Philippines, Cyprus, most of the Arab world, etc.
Hi! Thank you for taking the time to do this AMA. What do you believe is the most damaging aspect about having a government that is not transparent about the way they act and operate? Continuing, how can we help in your mission? Thanks!
Without openness, there's no effective check on what governments can do. Secrecy breeds all kinds of abuses, including corruption and human rights abuses but also maladministration - if there's nobody watching what you do, there's no incentive to do your job efficiently.
Edited for a better answer on how to help: You could get involved with local NGOs that are working to promote human rights in your area. We also appreciate any help in spreading the word and raising awareness: via twitter, or by distributing our statements and publications.
Where would you put the United States on levels of transparency and accuracy of information (post-911)?
The RTI Rating puts the US access system 47th in the world: http://rti-rating.org/country_data.php. In terms of accuracy - it's tough to say.
What do you guys think Ed Snowdens will be known as in 20 years from now?
I think he's already recognized as a hero and a whistleblower in most of the world, and that's how history will remember him. It's important to note that, a year since the revelations, the sky hasn't fallen. We haven't seen this explosion in terrorism or violence as a result of his leaks - so a lot of the doomsday predictions about the harm he has done to our national security, and the necessity of these programmes to keep us safe, seems overblown.
I am not sure where you are in India but there are lots of groups working on this issue there, so you might want to contact them and see if they could use some support (most groups would welcome some volunteer time from a law student).
India has a really strong RTI law, but there are always efforts to try to whittle it down. Eg a recent court decision in Madras said that requesters had to provide reasons for their requests, but this is directly contrary to international standards. So, the openness advocates need all of the support they can get!
How is Latin America when it comes to access of information as well as the spreading of it?
Some of the newest and most dynamic right to information laws in the world are in Latin America. Brazil and Mexico in particular are doing interesting things here. Hopefully when the Dejusticia people come online they can offer their opinion as well.
I had to take my friend to the airport and now I cant sleep. It's 6am here right now. I hate getting up early. I see that you only have a few questions though. So tell me, if you want:
How does the US compare to other countries in terms of transparency? Would you care to comment on its position? Do you have plans/have you in the past worked on getting things more transparent here?
Sorry you can't sleep - but it was very nice of you to drive your friend to the airport so early.
The RTI Rating (www.RTI-Rating.org) puts the US' Freedom of Information Act 47th in the world. It's badly outdated, and in need of an overhaul. Probably one of the biggest problems is the lack of an information commissioner, or some other independent oversight body, which forces people into the court system if they want to appeal against a refusal.
"A great power comes with a great responsibility"
do you support that quote ?
if you post some negative things in the internet and after 1 minute u decide to delete,but somebody already capture your post. in your perspective who should be prosecuted ? you for posting a negative post on your social media or the person that capture your post before you delete ?
*sorry english is my second language :)
I think Spiderman is doing a tough job in a difficult world and I fully support his efforts.
People are responsible for their own actions, online as well as off, but it's important to bear in mind the chilling impact that prosecutions for harmful speech can have. Governments need to exercise this sparingly, in order to preserve the open nature of the Internet.
Extraterrestrials and UFOs?
The truth is out there.
Have you paid attention to the Australian Government? If so, what do you think about the new ASIO laws and the secrecy around them?
Answered that below. Search for the word "atrocious".
Hi guys, exciting to see a group like this exists! I live in Canada, a country where we like to think of ourselves as pretty forward thinking people, how do we rank on the international transparency scale? My more important question though is about getting information, specifically world news that I can trust. I don't trust the major news media organizations I used to and I would like to read impartial, accurate, up to date world news. I'm sick of blatant propaganda, biased journalism and celebrity news
Edit: main question, where can I find news as described? Pardon
Canada ranks 57th on the RTI Rating (www.RTI-Rating.org). The interesting thing is that, when we first put out the RTI Rating in 2011, Canada ranked 40th. Our law hasn't changed - but all over the world countries are passing new laws or revamping their old ones, while our system creaks along.
Every journalist or source has their own bias - both institutional and personal. In my mind, the key is to understand that bias and read everything through that filter. So, for example, I find that the Economist can provide really good insight, but you have to read it knowing that they're highly pro-business and free market orientated - and that the reporting is going to reflect that.
Edited: It can also be useful to read multiple sources. So, for example, if you know about the Israel-Palestian conflict - read about the same event in Al Jazeera, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, and you'll get a much better understanding of what's going on than if you rely on just one.
What do you say to someone who wants to make government more accountable, but can't draw attention to themselves? I have no desire to be any sort of martyr but would like to help.
Well - I'm not sure where you're coming from, but in most of the developed world, and even much of the developing world, you don't really need to worry about becoming a "martyr" if you get engaged.
So - while the Internet can be great for facilitating anonymous activism, I'd urge you not to shy away from engaging more directly.
Thanks for doing this AMA.
Does it ever make you feel uncomfortable that the government could possibly be monitoring what you do on the internet, including this AMA?
Do you believe it is possible that if they (corps or gov) don't like you they could do something such as call your potential employer and destroy your chances or even worse frame you for a crime?
Also, what do you think about blasphemy laws? And, what do you think about laws that restrict speech from supremacist groups?
Edward Snowden has said that the NSA engages in monitoring of groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch - but these groups are obviously much bigger players - so I'm not sure how pervasive the surveillance interest is in this sector, and whether it would extend to smaller organizations like ours. Obviously, I think it's atrocious and a waste of public resources. I do my best to safeguard my privacy online - but if they're going to watch me there's not a lot to be done. I certainly wouldn't quit this work over something like that.
My employer is Centre for Law and Democracy - so if the Canadian government called to complain that they don't like what I'm saying I'm pretty sure they would be on my side.
In terms of blasphemy laws - really interesting question! We've had debates on those issues in the Middle East, where things get much more fiery. Check out a short summary of our position on that at: http://www.law-democracy.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Protection-of-the-Sacred-and-Blasphemy.pdf
What are acceptable levels of national secrecy?
There's a recognized test for information to be withheld: its disclosure would cause significant harm to a legitimate national interest, and that harm outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Unfortunately, we see governments withholding information far in extent of that.
To your knowledge, have there been any cases of a group taking the Canadian government to court over spying on Canadians? More specifically, for violating the rights of Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Yes. Two excellent groups, BCCLA and Open Media, are suing CSEC over that. Not sure what the status of the case is, but you can read about it at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/canadian-spy-agency-sued-for-allegedly-violating-charter-1.2158884.
Well I guess I'll be the one to ask....
Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses, or 1 horse-sized duck?
Also, how important is government transparency to this particular question??
I've given this a lot of thought: I'll take the duck-sized horses. I figure you could just plow through the mob, or climb a tree if you really got into trouble.
Transparency is a vital mechanism to verify whether governments are engaging in the kind of genetic experiments that might make these fights a reality (as I understand it, they are not).
Where do you hide the bodies?
The last place you'd think to look.
How do participants in other countries that want to join your movement sign up? Particularly in places like Somalia for instance.
Are you an activist from Somalia? We have been active there, and would love to connect with you. I'd suggest you PM me, but since I'm the one who started this threat my inbox will be a disaster. Check out our website - and send us an email there.
How worried are you about the general naivety and apathy of the general public when it comes to their online privacy?
Apathy is always a major challenge when it comes to human rights issues in the developed world. Often people don't see a critical or immediate threat, so they tune out.
This is actually where awareness raising, derided as "slacktivism", can actually be really useful if it demonstrates interest or engagement on an issue. If people were more vigilant about online privacy, and complained loudly or stopped using services with shoddy policies on this issue, the landscape would change very quickly.
Is it really International Right to Know Day or did you just make that up?
It's a thing! Check out the hashtag #IRTKD2014. We're trending and everything.
Have any of you ever cheated on your spouses?
Haha... not sure if any of the others will touch this one, but I get a free pass since I've never been married.
File access to information requests on issues that interest you. Tell your political leaders that transparency is important to you and it should be prioritized and adequately resourced. Engage in any consultations that take place, such as over participation in the Open Government Program. Spread the word online and through social media - retweet, share, re-post publications and statements. All helpful!
What can you tell us about the Bilderberg group and their secret agenda?
All I know is they keep denying my requests to join.
I am disappointed. You know as much as me:(
We'll form our own Bilderberg group! With blackjack... and ...
What are your fetishes?
When strangers on the Internet ask me invasive personal questions. That must be why I do so many AMAs...
Today is International Right to Know Day
Why didn't I know that before today?
Read the rules. We are under no obligation to tell you you have a right to know before today.
Seriously though - around the world we try our best to promote the right to information, and actually awareness is increasing pretty dramatically. Twenty years ago there were only 17 countries with right to information legislation on the books - now there are one hundred. That wouldn't happen if there wasn't demand for it. It can be tough to get the word out, but conversations like this help people recognize the importance of transparency, and demand more from their governments.
Why do you think so many people (especially in the US and Europe) care so little about being constantly monitored? I don't get it.
Because there isn't really a direct understanding of it, I would imagine. They're sitting alone at their computer, in their house or apartment, and it still feels like it's a private medium, so they figure there's no problem even if, in reality, they're being watched and monitored at all times.
What's in Area 51?
I'm pretty sure this guy lives there: http://siliconsasquatch.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Backlog-Ancient-Destiny-Aliens.jpg
Why is the West essentially unlearned in the art of kundalini awakenings? Why is the hidden light of man kept a secret from the majority of the population? Why do we not have discussions openly on the heart of this mystery? Materialism has its place as a constructive, order-creating thought, but spiritualism seems to have been wiped out by a practice of faith alone, even when the fire of the gods lay waiting to be discovered in ancient Indian texts. Why is this not talked about, shared, revealed on a wide scale basis?
It's worse than censorship. It's hiding God.
Uh... we're drifting a little outside of my area of expertise on this one...
Why are we beholden to international bankers to create and value our money? How were the different nations of the world convinced that this was a good idea? and how than did the politicians convince their constituents that this was an acceptable practice for retaining a sound economic structure?
We're straying a little off topic, and out of my area of expertise. I'd be happy to answer any of your questions about Rampart, though.
It seems as if many diplomats from other countries know that there was something fishy going on the day of Sept 11th 2001. What do y'all think?
I'm not one for conspiracy theories - mostly because there are so many real and demonstrable abuses of power to get outraged over (see Snowden).
Is the government really watching me masturbate? If so, do they have the worlds largest collection of child pornography?
I don't have that information, personally, but you could always file an access request and ask the relevant authorities.
What is the one particular thing, above all else, that you want the world to know?
View HistoryShare Link