Freedom of Information Act
Free Access to Information which is an important part of the right to freedom of expression has been stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and explains: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Also according to UN General Assembly Resolution 59/1 of 1946 “freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.” According to this same Resolution “freedom of information implies the right to gather, transmit and publish news anywhere and everywhere without letters.”
This has also been repeated in a more clear way in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and furthermore this has been mentioned in some form in Article 22 of the 1990 Universal Declaration of Islamic Rights.
Overall Look at this Law in Iran
In Iran the Freedom of Information Act was ratified by the Parliament in 2008 for the purpose of transparency in the operations of governmental bodies and the opportunity of monitoring by the citizens and the media. And in 2009, for the purpose of the enforcement of the law it was referred to the then president, but the drawing up of its implementation guidelines and their communication took until 2015.
Towards the realisation of citizen’s rights, this law tries to guarantee information kept by the government freely or the lowest possible cost, and bring about continued suitable information dissemination opportunity between the government and the people.
The meaning of the term “data” in article 1 of the law is digital contents such as films, images, texts, numerical combinations, maps and addresses. More significantly, articles 2 and 3 stress on methods for making information available particularly in organizations’ websites and overall the creation of access process, has been stressed on technical necessities such as e-publications and avoiding to make people go in person to relevant departments. Article 5 of the law even stresses on assessment of people’s satisfaction from method of publication and access to information. In other words, the law has good conformity with facilities that today the internet, computer and cellular phones have put in the hands of data management experts.
It must be said that not government affiliated institutions, but also revolutionary, armed forces, three branches of government and their affiliated companies, organizations, foundations and institutions that are run under the supervision of the Supreme Leader, any company or institution which 50 or more percent of its shares belongs to the government, and also private companies that provide public services such as banks, are all included in this law.
The Aims and Philosophy behind the Ratification of this Law
Some of the aims behind the ratification of this law in the views of the government and members of parliament include: the smoothing of social management system, reducing the gaps in information dissemination, attention to the digital government (e-government), ease of people’s access to government services, prevention of interest acquired on information, creating equal information opportunities and establishment of social justice, increase public trust, bringing about the critique environment, dialogue and better presentation of recommendations.
President Hasan Rowhani communicated the implementation guidelines of this law. He continually has stressed that the free access to information is part of citizen’s rights and prevents corruption and false rumours. In his talks he emphasized that in a democratic system people must be able to be informed of the performance of all governmental institutions who use the public budget. Also this free access to information is part of citizen’s rights and a method to fight corruption.
The Implementing Points of this Law
The free access to information base is in the form of an internet website created for all citizens’ access to government departments’ information.
Any legal or private Iranian citizen can request access to information by way of a private email by registering in the website and creating an account, also digital government desk, post or in person to the department’s information unit.
The secretary of the Freedom of Information Commission, Hosein Entezami, while stressing on article 8 of these implementation guidelines, made remarks on the request for information mechanism where departments have 10 days to give the information that citizens have requested; and if there is a delay, citizens can register their complaints on the same website, so that it gets investigated through this Commission. And all the replies to people’s queries will also simultaneously be published in the website, unless they contain personal information.
Also another one of the implementation tools of the Free Access to Information Act is the “Iranians’ National Work Folder”. On this basis from now on each Iranian will have an email address through which they can be on contact with government departments and ask for documents and information that they need via the said email. With the creation of the Iranians’ National Work Folder, the basis will be brought about that in the first phase, executive bodies can make available documents of Work Folder of each Iranian to the people. Also people can through their Work Folders see the outcome of the services that they want to get from departments that include permits, documents and their follow ups. One of the specialties of this website is the reduction of the need for people to go to various executive bodies, public institutions and speeding up the response to the customer and reduction in paperwork and bureaucracy.
The thing that has occurred with regards to access to information in Iran is an important legislative advancement. But in practice, it is a slow process.
With a look at existing mechanisms and the readiness of governmental organizations also with the definition of an optimised and logical work process it seems that hasty action must not be taken. In the existing conditions the online platforms and websites of organizations are not fully ready and there is no experience from the implementation of this law yet. Therefore, most likely organizations do not have the full ability to respond to requests in the specified times yet, and in the first place the study, implementation and online platform stages must be developed so that the law can be implemented in the best way possible.
Although the path taken towards the adoption of this law is commendable, but it is necessary that the authorities insist on all governmental bodies to join this website. Also the joining of NGOs to this website can be a positive step towards free access to information; because they will share information about their activities and campaigns in this website and will benefit from information provided by other organizations too.