History of Right of Access to Information

Access to Information: A Fundamental Right, A Universal Standard, 17 January 2006.

[cited in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe during the debate on the new Convention on Access to Official Documents in October 2008].

· 1766 – Sweden adopts world’s first access to information law: The law establishes press freedom, including the freedom to print and disseminate materials about the government, courts, and parliament. The law, which forms part of Sweden’s constitution, recognises that press freedom is contingent upon access to information and states “to that end free access should be allowed to all archives, for the purpose of copying such documents in loco or obtaining certified copies of them”.

An English translation of the original law can be found in the publication «The World´s First Freedom of Information Act – Anders Chydenius´ Legacy Today» published in 2006 on the 240th anniversary of the adoption of the first access to information law by the Chydenius Foundation. Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) was a Finnish enlightenment thinker and politician who played a crucial role in creating the new law in 1766.

· 1789 France’s Declaration of Human and Civic Rights which still forms part of the French Constitution establishes at Article 14 that: “All citizens have the right to ascertain, by themselves, or through their representatives, the need for a public tax, to consent to it freely, to watch over its use, and to determine its proportion, basis, collection and duration.” Although this declaration has not been used as the basis for asserting a right of access to information in France, it does seem to provide for a public “right to know” about the spending of taxes.

· 1946 UN General Assembly Resolution 59(1) on Freedom of Information says: “Freedom of Information is a fundamental right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated. Freedom of Information implies the right to gather, transmit and publish news anywhere and everywhere without fetters. As such it is an essential factor in any serious effort to promote the peace and progress of the word.” This language was not however clearly understood or defined at the time as the right to request and receive information from public authorities.

· 1966 United States of America adopts Freedom of Information Act: Enacted in 1966, The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that establishes the public’s right to obtain information from federal government agencies. The FOIA is codified at 5 U.S.C. Section 552. «Any person» can file a FOIA request, including U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, organizations, associations, and universities. In 1974, after the Watergate scandal, the Act was amended to force greater agency compliance. It was also amended in 1996 to allow for greater access to electronic information. An interesting article of the adoption of the US FOIA, and President Lyndon Johnson’s reluctance to sign it, can be found on the website of the National Security Archive, along with a history of subsequent amendments.

· 1981: Council of Europe adopts Recommendation to member States on the Access to Information Held by Public Authorities. This non-binding recommendation urges member states to ensure that “Everyone within the jurisdiction of a member state shall have the right to obtain, on request, information held by the public authorities other than legislative and judicial bodies.” The recommendation reflects the trend in Europe to recognise a right of access to administrative information, as reflected in laws such as France’s 1978 law on the “improvement of relations between the public and the administration” and the Netherland’s 1978 “law on openness of the administration”.


Freedom of Information, a Finnish Clergyman’s Gift to Democracy for more information – article by Stephen Lamble from February 2002.


Saber Mas III: Regional report on access to informaiton and data protection- Briefing Paper – 28/09/2011

This publication tackles the relationship and coexistence of two rights: access to public information and the protection of personal data.

Access to Information: A Fundamental Right, A Universal Standard – Briefing Paper – 17/01/2006

This paper shows that the right to information that has emerged in the world in the past four decades is clearly a right of access to information rather than a narrower right of access to documents. Includes information on the Access to Information Laws in Europe as of Jan 2006.

The World’s First Freedom of Information Act Published in 2006 by the Anders Chydenius Foundation

Publication on the 240th anniversary of the world´s first Freedom of Information legislation, adopted by the Swedish parliament in 1766. This publication includes the English translation of this ordinance on freedom of writing and the press. The enlightenment thinker and politician ’s  first freedom of information, Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) played a crucial role in creating the new law.

Council of Europe: Recommendation No. R (81) 19 – Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 25/11/1981

Of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the Access to Infortmation held by Public Authorities.