Madrid, 28 September 2023 –  International Access to Information Day has gone from something founded by a small group of civil society activists from around the world in Sofia, Bulgaria on 28 September 2002, to a UN and UNESCO day, also celebrated by official bodies across the globe.

Since International Access to Information Day was launched, international human rights courts and inter-governmental organisations, as well as the European Union treaties and many national constitutions have recognised a fundamental right of access to information.

Challenges remain, however, and as this day – originally called Right to Know Day by those who came up with it, including Helen Darbishire, Director of Access Info – celebrates its 21st birthday, here are some priorities for action by governments across Europe to ensure that this right is well-enforced:

  • Stronger access to information laws and better implementation: The European region has countries with long traditions of transparency, notably the Nordic countries, led by Sweden with its 1766 law, contrasted with much younger laws – Luxembourg in 2018 and Andorra in just 2021. On paper, the laws range from strong – for instance Serbia with 135 points out of 150 on the global RTI-Rating, to incredibly weak laws, notably Austria with just 33 points. There is a need for a combination of law reform – at least bringing laws into line with the minimum standards in the Council of Europe’s Tromsø Convention – with strengthening a culture of transparency and better implementation in practice.
  • Better balancing with privacy and data protection: There is a problem in Europe – at the national and EU levels – whereby data protection has become a significant excuse for not providing information even when it’s about relatively senior public officials performing public functions on public funds. As a result, it is often hard to get full transparency on decision making, thus limiting accountability. This has to change, through legal reform where necessary but more through ensuring better balancing between the right to information and the right to data protection.
  • Open data for combating corruption and for environmental protection: Open data studies show that far too little data relating to pressing challenges concerning corruption and the environment is available. Data on public spending, procurement, as well as lobbying and company ownership should all be collected and open.
    Meanwhile, governments are either not collecting or not publishing key environmental information such as vulnerabilities of a country to climate change (see Access Info’s results for the European part of the Global Data Barometer here). Such data should be prioritised for openness via proactive publication.
  • Transparency for trustworthy technology: Given the rapid increase in use of algorithms and artificial intelligence by public bodies to take decisions, there is an urgent need to ensure the transparency of input and output data (duly anonymised where relevant) and that there are evaluations of impacts and biases (such as gender or race biases) which are also made public.

On the positive side, Access Info noted the importance of transparency in modern democracies, and the growth of a global community of actors such as the multi-stakeholder Open Government Partnership, which brings together 75 governments, local authorities, and civil society organisations all working to advance transparency and accountability.

Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe commented:

It is high time that we see full respect for this right! Much more data should be published proactively, and requests should be answered rapidly and fully, with only minimum and genuinely necessary limitations on access. Adopting these priorities is the best way that governments can celebrate International Access to Information Day.

Rachel Hanna, Deputy Director of Access Info stated:

While we have seen a growth in the adoption of access to information legal guarantees globally, proper implementation and enforcement is needed in practice if we are to fulfil SDG 16.10 before the 2030 deadline.

The priorities set out here have guided the development of Access Info’s 2023-2026 Strategy, due for approval by our General Assembly on 4 October.

The hashtags for the day, which UNESCO will also use, are #RightToKnow and #AccessToInfoDay

Activities on Access to information Day

  • UNESCO is holding an event at the University of Oxford on 28 September with a focus on the online space as an enabler of access to information. More information and registration to follow online here.
  • Congreso Internacional de Transparencia (in Spanish) is taking place in Alcalá de Henares between 27 and 29 September, with participants from Spain and across Latin America. The programme is here.

For more information, please contact:

Helen Darbishire | Executive Director | Access Info Europe +34 667 685 319