Freedom of information and the right to know: Tensions between openness and secrecy

Information Research
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Information Research: an international electronic journal, 2017, 22 (4)
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Introduction. This study explores the notions of government openness and secrecy in public access to government documents under the Freedom of Information Act, particularly policy-related documents, to provide an overview of FOI trends and the tensions of FOI conditional exemptions as they relate to government decision-making processes and the public interest. Method. Based on two cases studies there are several data sources: open government datasets, government annual reports, government agencies’ FOI disclosure logs, and two FOI requests and associated correspondence.. Analysis. Frequency distributions were produced from the datasets to establish trends in information requests and to consider the impact of government policies on the outcomes. A qualitative analysis was done on the documents of the two cases studies to explore the decision-making processes. Results. Government policies do impact on FOI effectiveness. Conditional exemptions are used to deny requests, rather than to facilitate disclosure. Conflict may arise between privacy issues and disclosure on a policy matter. Conclusions. The arbitrariness of information practices in the implementation of the FOI regime in Australia means that a balance has not been achieved between openness of government and secrecy.
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