Definitions

Definitions: Speaking the Same Language

There are several definitions and common usages in circulation for each of the three major concepts concerning information rights issues. In its work, CIIPS draws on the definitions below.

Freedom of Information (“FOI”)

In the broadest sense, freedom of information is the public’s right to a free flow of information in society. This includes our rights of freedom of expression and access to information without undue restrictions imposed by government, corporations, or other entities.

The term FOI is also used in a narrower sense to mean the individual’s right of access to government records and information.

Privacy and Privacy Protection

Privacy, as we define it, is the ability or right to have a “private life” — to be left alone, free from illegal or unwanted scrutiny and intrusions.

Privacy rights include informational privacy — the right to control or limit the collection, use, sharing, and disclosure of one’s own personal information by other agencies, whether they are part of government or the private sector.

Since knowledge brings power to those who possess it, knowledge of our private lives tends to increase the power and influence that governments and corporations have over us. Some limits must be imposed in order to maintain the delicate balance of power that sustains our democracy.

“Privacy protection” means defence of the privacy of individuals by legislation, policy, technology, or other means.

Information Rights

Both FOI and privacy rights increase the power of the individual in society, which is why we refer to both of them as “information rights.”

Information rights provide individuals with a much-needed counterbalance to the far greater access to, and control of, information enjoyed by governments and other powerful organizations. Information rights improve our democracy by reducing this imbalance of power in a society that is increasingly dominated by the uses and abuses of information.

Further, our right as individuals to know what is going on in society must exist in balance with the right to individual privacy.

Together, information rights help to create:

  • an informed electorate,
  • open, honest and accountable government,
  • greater citizen participation in the democratic process, and
  • greater protection of individual human rights.

Open Government

Open government doctrine holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight. In its broadest construction it opposes the use of “national interest” arguments to routinely restrict public access to information and legitimize extensive state secrecy. Open government concepts date from the European Enlightenment debates about the proper construction of the newly emerging democratic society.

An interesting recent development in open government discussion is the theory of open source governance. It aims to expand application of democratic principles to enable interested citizens to get more directly involved in the legislative process through the free software movement.

Open Data

Open data is data that is made freely available to everyone in one or more open and accessible (generally digital) formats.  Open data should be available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright or other mechanisms of control. It does not usually include personal information subject to privacy law or protection.

The rationale behind open government data can be considered as twofold. First, advocates contend that making government data available to the public in open formats increases government transparency and accountability. Second, open data should enable third parties to leverage the potential of government data through the development of applications and services that address public and private demands.

Open data is sometimes confused with or merged into the idea of open government. In fact, it is only one aspect of open government, albeit a very important one.

Media Democracy

Wikipedia defines media democracy as a set of ideas advocating reforming the mass media, strengthening public service broadcasting, and developing and participating in alternative media and citizen journalism.

Media democracy concepts include use of new media technologies to increase citizen participation in journalism and public discourse in order to promote democratic health through the spread of rarely discussed ideas, growth of non-corporate media sources and reduction of media concentration, and turn audiences into active participants to increase the diversity of perspectives and better reflect society’s make-up.