Contributor: Centre for Internet and Society – India
Openness in relation to information on governmental functioning is a crucial component of democratic governance. There are few things more abhorrent to democracies than lack of transparency in their functioning, and secrecy in public affairs is generally a sign of autocratic rule. Such transparency is the foundation for the seeking of accountability from those who exercise power over public policy issues and governmental functioning, including not only governments, but also large corporations, trade unions, civil society organizations, funding agencies and special interest groups. This information would also include all information on private bodies that can be accessed by public authorities.
Transparency helps citizens independently evaluate governmental functioning and thus hold accountable any instances of corruption or mismanagement whether at the level of policy formulation, or at the level of implementation. Thus, the freedom of speech and expression and the right to receive information, which are seen as two sides of the same right under most international covenants, are both deeply implicated in ensuring transparent and accountable governance. Openness with respect to government-produced information is part of the right of the public to access any output of taxpayer funding. Specifically, the open data movement generally understands the public’s right to information to include
(1) The proactive disclosure of information;
(2) The internet being the primary medium for such disclosure;
(3) Information being made available for access and for reuse free of charge and;
(4) Information being made available in a machine-readable format to enable computer-based reuse.