Get ready to talk ‘freedom of information’

According to Attorney General Vincent Byron, the bill has been circulated to various stakeholders and now the wider dialogue in communities will take place. He said, “There will be a process of consultation, and we are planning a schedule of events, where we will be having public discussion on it before we take it back to parliament for the second reading.”

The attorney general indicated that those events will provide the opportunity for the public “to voice, to question and to look at the issues involved with Freedom of Information”.

He noted, however, that Freedom of Information carries certain requirements and responsibilities to make it work. On this AG Byron stated, “Freedom of Information must not be seen in isolation. It should also be seen in relation to data protection, because, where as the Freedom of Information Bill deals with the citizens opportunity to request public information from the Government, data protection deals with the protection of private information, privacy rights.”

He explained also that the concept of Freedom of Information, where individuals can request information from Government, requires the Government to do a certain amount of preparation to make it possible in a meaningful way. There are costs involved for example, to have Departments gather and collate information in such a way that is convenient for persons who make requests.

The attorney general was clear in pointing out that some information will be restricted or off-limits. Certain information deemed of relevance to the national security interest will be off-limits. But even this, he said, needs to be publicly discussed.

Also coming to the public at some stage is the concept of Open Data. According to the Attorney General, Open Data is something that is being examined within the Ministry of Communications’ ICT Department. He explained that Open Data is the opposite of Freedom of Information, where the public sector publishes information for general public consumption.

Byron said, “We collect all sorts of data all the time, and we should be in a position to make sure that once we produce this data, it is accessible to entrepreneurs to businesses, even the public sector itself to make more informed decisions, strategic decisions, based on solid information.

“So, this is one area that we will be promoting. We will look within our various departments to see if can produce data for the public, without the need for them to come and make requests,” Byron stated.

According to Byron, Open Data makes the society more effective and efficient, as the availability of information becomes widespread.

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