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ARTICLE 19 and Privacy International welcome move to improve public access to government information

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 23 January 2009 joint statement by ARTICLE 19 and Privacy International, an interim member of IFEX:

United States: ARTICLE 19 and Privacy International Welcome New Openness Policies

ARTICLE 19 and Privacy International (PI) welcome US President Barack Obama's announcement on 21 January of new policies enhancing public access to government information, in one of his first official actions as President. These changes mark a significant departure from previous policies.

The new rules revise existing controls on access to government information under the Freedom of Information Act and the Presidential Records Act. They create a presumption in favour of disclosure and also encourage affirmative disclosure of information. They call for "creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government".

The Presidential Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act clearly sets out new standards that should be the benchmark for transparency: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.

ARTICLE 19 and PI welcome President Obama's initiative - on his first day in office - which recognises the importance of openness and reverses years of excessive secrecy.

These changes are not only important to the US but to the global community, given the US' importance in promoting openness. Other nations should take this opportunity to reaffirm their commitments to adopting easy-to-use, effective mechanisms to allow their citizens access to information.

Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director, said: "ARTICLE 19 and PI welcome President Obama's commitment to transparency and openness. That it comes on the first full day of President Obama's administration signals a new approach to government domestically in the US. It also marks a shift towards re-establishing the US position as a global leader in promoting human rights, good governance and democracy."

ARTICLE 19
Privacy International