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Open government

The use of Freedom of Information and Open Access requests have fuelled countless news stories through disclosures of the faults in government systems and practices. The Electronic Privacy Information Centre and the American Civil Liberties Union have been the most successful in the U.S. at gaining access to these documents and exposing the failures and the problems. These have also led to a number of related-court cases.

In the EU this practice is less popular. Some organisations such as Statewatch and Privacy International have uncovered problematic practices, particularly at the level of the EU. Follow-up media attention is minimal to date. My colleague David Banisar who directs the FOI programme at Privacy International has for a number of years been monitoring and promoting the spread of Freedom of Information laws around the world:  this spread can be considered as an ideal opportunity.

Public inquiries and commissions have also succeeded in part in opening access to Government practices. In the U.S. the Government Accountability Office has published reviews of profiling and data mining systems, and pointed out serious problems. In the UK reviews of the practice of security and intelligence agencies have provided much public discussion over existing powers and the practices. One interesting case is the Arar Commission in Canada that is looking in detail at the flow of data and the co-operation across borders. The problem with such commissions is usually that they usually take a significant amount of political will to create, and consequently take place after gross travesties.