What’s Right To Know all about?
Right To Know is a company limited by guarantee, a not-for-profit focused on vindicating the access to information rights of Irish citizens.
What’s “access to information”?
Access to information (ATI), sometimes called right to information (RTI), but more commonly referred to as Freedom of Information (FOI), are laws created to give you a right to access information from your government. Over eighty countries have implemented ATI laws in the past twenty years, including Ireland.
At Right To Know, we consider this right to be a human right, as part of your rights of freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The connection between the two has been made by the European Court of Human Rights in several court cases.
In Ireland, how do citizens express their access to information rights?
Anyone can send a request to a public body in Ireland seeking access to information. There are two main laws that give you this right: the main one is the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2014, and a second one is the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) Regulations 2007-2014. Both are free although you may be charged fees to search and retrieve records.
Isn’t this something to do with Data Protection?
No. Data Protection laws are different. Data Protection allows people to access information relating only to themselves, from both public bodies and private companies.
FOI and AIE allow citizens to access any records (or environmental information) from public bodies only, subject to certain exceptions.
So with FOI and AIE I can ask for records about anything from a public body?
In principle, yes. However the release of records may be refused on the basis of exemptions in either law, or on the basis that you may have asked for too many records.
And this is for Irish public bodies? What about EU public bodies?
European Union institutions are subject to their own access to documents regime, called Regulation 1049. This law allows any EU citizen to access documents from any EU institution. There are similar exemptions in place for refusing access to certain records or types of data as there are under Irish FOI or AIE laws.
So using these laws, Right To Know plans to get access to documents? To what end?
Yes, but more than that. We’ve become quite experienced in obtaining records under these laws over the past decade or more, and have trained or assisted many citizens and journalists to help them do the same.
We believe making more documents available about how government makes decisions and how public resources are allocated strengthens our democracy. We want to support people in making requests and appeals, but also we have identified deficiencies and problems with how these laws are implemented.
To this end, as well as seeking documents and data under these laws, we will also seek to push the boundaries on the rights these laws give to citizens, up to and including and if necessary, court action to help vindicate the public interest.
This sounds like a lengthy process to undertake. What about scoops and headlines?
We are more concerned with the long arc of how information flows in society than we are in scoops or headlines. Information is the oxygen of democracy, and secrecy breeds maladministration. To that end we see Right To Know as a very long term project. We spent 5 years involved in a case trying to make NAMA more transparent – and we have no doubt that future projects will take just as long, if not longer.
However if information comes to use that we think is deserving of media coverage, we have the option of either telling that story ourselves, or to do it in partnership with a news organisation we think could help spread the story better than one website operating on its own.