What is Freedom of Information?

Freedom of information concerns the right of citizens to access information held by public bodies.

Information held by public bodies

With FOI, citizens can access information in the yellow area. Without FOI, information in the yellow area remains hidden from the public unless the public body decides to release it. The information that FOI can provide access to includes, but is not limited to:

  • the amount spent on a particular project (e.g. Merdeka Generation roadshows)
  • the companies contracted to perform outsourced functions (e.g. publicity work)
  • the noise levels of a particular train line

What is a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act?

A Freedom of Information (FOI) Act is a law that guarantees FOI, typically by:

  • establishing the right of citizens to request for information from public bodies
  • establishing requirements for public bodies to comply with these requests

An FOIA reverses the burden of proof concerning access to information. Without an FOIA, citizens bear the burden of justifying their requests for information, and the public body can reject these requests without any justifications. With an FOIA, citizens have the right to request for information, and the public body bears the burden of justifying any rejection of these requests.

Why should we have a Freedom of Information Act?

Representative democracies require an active citizenry that can effectively participate in policy-making. FOIAs are thus vital to democracies; they ensure that citizens can access the information they need to fulfil their duties as active citizens. In addition, FOIAs also support good governance. They make decision-making processes more transparent, allowing the government to be better held accountable for its actions. They also make government data more accessible which is vital in stemming out corruption, and in uncovering inappropriate use of public funds. Furthermore, FOIAs can increase government responsiveness which helps build trust in public bodies.

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