Vuoi sapere quanto spende la Commissione Europea in viaggi? Chiedilo insieme ad Access Info!

PARTECIPA ALLA CAMPAGNA

Oggi Access Info Europe ha lanciato una campagna pubblica di invio di richieste di accesso all’Unione Europea per ottenere tutte le informazioni sulle spese di missione dei Commissari Europei.

La campagna nasce dalla richiesta inviata da Alba Gutierrez, membro del team di Access Info, che ha svelato come il Presidente della Commissione Jean-Claude Juncker abbia speso €63,000 per un aerotaxi in occasione della riunione del G20 in Turchia.

Allo stesso tempo, i contratti tra la Commissione e le compagnie aeree private, che forniscono questi servizi, sono stati negati ad un altro attivista di Access Info, Andreas Pavlou.

#ijf16: tutti gli appuntamenti con Diritto Di Sapere

ijf16

In un momento di gran fermento per il diritto di accesso e la trasparenza, Diritto Di Sapere non poteva mancare al consueto appuntamento con il Festival del Giornalismo di Perugia. Quest’anno sarà domenica 10 Aprile la data da segnare: nella giornata conclusiva dell’ijf16, saremo infatti impegnati in tre panel.

Tutti gli eventi saranno trasmessi via streaming sul canale Youtube e sul sito del festival.

[RESEARCH] The relation between transparency and accountability

As part of our research efforts, here’s the another update on the most important research on FOI and open data all over the world, by our intern Alexandre Salha, a researcher who worked on access to information in his native Lebanon.

transparencyaccountability

In his chapter of Oxford Handbook of Public Accountability, Pr. Meijer defines the relation between Transparency and Accountability – globally known as T/A – which he can resume in three cause-and-effect equations:

  • Transparency for horizontal accountability

  • Transparency for vertical accountability

  • Transparency for less accountability

However, these three levels are most probably applied in a proper context of availability of information, which people can process in order to have an impact on the government and public institutions.

Before tackling this issue, he starts with a theoretical and historical approach of the topic showing how the idea of openness and therefore transparency became a universal acknowledgement.

Although it is a basic requirement for democracies, government transparency – especially with the Freedom of Information Act – is moving from liberal to new democracies and even non-democratic countries as stated by Meijer. Enhancing transparency increases accountability, helps curbing corruption and connects citizens with the government and the decision-making process.

According to Meijer, “both the eye of God and the public eyes convey the idea that we are being watched and, therefore, we should behave.”

This was one of the outcomes of the French revolution – concretized years later with the Freedom of Information Act – against philosophers claiming that “the integrity of the state would be undermined by transparency”. Even though the FOIA became popular, it should shift from a passive to a proactive legislation, with the assistance of new technologies introduced in public institutions.

In order to do so and to have an efficient impact, Pr. Meijer defined three perspectives on transparency:

  • As a virtue

  • As a relation

  • As a system

These three perspectives are essential for accountability as they form a complete triangle of interaction, as mentioned in this chapter: “Transparency is defined as the availability of information about an actor allowing other actors to monitor the workings or performance of this actor.”

And now a question to you: Under which circumstances transparency leads to accountability without distorting the public trust, the democratization process and the people’s engagement in public affairs?

We are hiring!

Diritto Di Sapere is looking for a Community Development Coordinator. The ideal candidate is committed, enthusiastic and passionate about access to information, civic technology and human rights. In addition to the community building and writing aspects of the work, the role also requires some administrative work to organize public events and workshops in Italy. Contract is to start in March 2015.

Responsibilities include
Strengthening the community of users around the online platform www.dirittodisapere.it by proactively and creatively engaging with a different range of audiences
Providing support to users on how to file access to information requests with the online platform being developed;
Liaising with legal and technical staff and developers to ensure that the platform is run successfully;
Coordinating the activities with the communication consultant;
Monitoring emerging trends and developments in the areas of human rights & civic technology and media via social networks and traditional media outlets with a particular focus on transparency, accountability, open government and open data
Occasionally writing and editing blog posts in Italian and English about DDS’s work and related topics; curating cross-posted blog posts from guest authors and bloggers;
Reporting regularly to the director and the board on activities.

Requirements
Knowledge of issues related to access to information at national and international level;
Ability to learn new issues quickly;
Ability to communicate in a clear, compelling, and concise manner;
Ability to write clearly, persuasively, and quickly for a range of audiences in Italian;
Ability to communicate comfortably and clearly in English;
Good organizational and administrative skills;
Ability to work in team and independently, under strict deadlines and time constraints
Willingness to travel within Italy and occasionally abroad.

Apply sending cv to: info (at) dirittodisapere.it

Closing date for applications: on rolling basis until the 28 February 2015.

Interviews will be held online.

Regno Unito: un bilancio del Freedom of Information Act 10 anni dopo

Con l’inizio del 2015 il Freedom of Information Act inglese compie 10 anni.
Ripubblichiamo qui il bilancio di luci e ombre che ne fa il ricercatore Ben Worthy (pubblicato originariamente qui). Buona lettura e buon anno a tutti!

operation-unthinkableThe truth is that the FOI Act isn’t used, for the most part, by ‘the people’. It’s used by journalists. For political leaders, it’s like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, ‘Hey, try this instead’, and handing them a mallet.

Tony Blair 2010

The Freedom of Information Act has enhanced the UK’s democratic system and made our public bodies more open, accountable and transparent. It has been a success and we do not wish to diminish its intended scope, or its effectiveness.

House of Commons Justice Select Committee 2012 Post-Legislative Scrutiny of FOI

These two comments sum up the difficulties of measuring how successful the UK Freedom of Information Act has been. It isn’t just about statistics on numbers of requests, users or refusals (though there are some here if you are interested). What people think also shapes how it works and how others then behave. So a former Prime Minister sees it as one of his biggest mistakes while a Parliamentary committee see it as a vital part of democracy. Which is it?

What Does FOI look like?

One way to think about FOI is as an iceberg (as Nicola White said in her great book). iceberg

We can see only a small part of the overall process, those high level, often national FOI requests that attract controversy or attention-the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009 was the big one that set off a chain reaction of resignations and reform.[i] There has also been FOI exposure of all sorts of subjects, from the Iraq war to health reform. In recent days, for example, we have had stories about where the Environment Agency invests its money, the number of pupils at new Free schools or the cost of green policies–see David Higgerson’s FOI Friday round-up for more.

But underneath this, there are a large number of requests, probably 90 % or more, that we don’t see. Our research found most requests go to local government, somewhere between 70 to 80 % or 3.5 to 4 in every five requests (see what the Justice Committee said here). These are about local or personal issues-waste, street fixing, tax and permits- that are often ‘under the radar’. That’s not to say they can’t be spectacular-Tony Blair probably never expected his new law would lead to us knowing that 3 people were banned from Birmingham’s new library for being too smelly or to theresignation en masse of Walberswick Parish council in Suffolk. But real FOI is local, focused and probably bringing hidden benefits we don’t easily see.

Who Uses FOI?

A key problem underlining all FOI analysis is the lack of knowledge about requesters and their motivations. The table below is based on estimates of requester types to central and local government from FOI officers.

Requester Local Government (%) Central Government (%)
Public    37 39
Journalist    33 8
Business    22 8
Academic    1–2 13

 

Contrary to the views of Tony Blair, FOI requesters are not just journalists. The largest group across central and local government appears to be members of the public. We felt that the public consists of a small group of politically engaged with a larger group pursuing issues of “micro-politics” or of private importance.

There is a clear rise and fall of public interest with the news agenda-snow leads to requests about snow plows, spying about government snooping levels. However, many requests were focused, “quite niche” or on “specialised” issues- a planning dispute or parking fine at local level or access to benefits at central government (or even who was paid what to switch on the town Christmas lights).

Requesters’ motivations were also diverse. Even the small sample of requesters we found and spoke to in our studies gave a huge variety of reasons for using FOI, from “concern about wasted money” to “curiosity”, “general interest” and personal campaigns against “corrupt” local government. So, the sheer variability of requester motivations and use underscores the variability of impact of the Act upon different public bodies.

Who’s Against It? Fighting on the Border

FOI has been subject to clear ‘battle’ over how the Act is working, with a public divide between sceptical (mainly) senior politicians and officials and supporters of the Act in the media, NGOs and the appeal system.

The extent to which FOI is supported varies across departments and local government bodies, dependent on the individual leadership, culture and environment of different public bodies. On the whole, government officials support the Act and work with it.

While welcoming it as an idea, senior politicians have been less keen on the loss of control or unexpected issues or scandals sprung on them. As well as claiming it is vaguely ‘abused’, a number of senior officials and politicians have argued that FOI negatively affects decision-making processes, though we found there was no real evidence for this (which didn’t stop some rather interesting anecdotes to the Select Committee). While Tony Blair was clear in his views that FOI was an all-round disaster, David Cameron’s more subtle approach has been to argue that ‘real freedom of Information’ was about ‘spending’ while other requests ‘furred up the arteries’ of government-a comment that revealed a very particular view of what information rights ‘should’ be used for.

Numerous politicians have also highlighted the ‘cost’ of FOI, though, like many economic arguments, this is actually smokescreen for a political debate. And when different studies have concluded that requests costs either £200, £36 or £19 each, the discussion becomes a little confusing (see this post here and a longer report here). The danger is that all this combined negativity may encourage poor behaviour and lead to a small ‘anti- FOI’ group at the very top of government. While, for example, Blair’s claim that FOI is used only by journalists is demonstrably untrue, it adds to a distorted view of FOI.

On the other side of the divide, FOI has a clear constituency of supporters in the media, Parliament and across various NGOs as well as in the courts and the appeal system. Supported by high profile cases such as MPs’ expenses, the symbolic importance of FOI legislation offers the reform a robust protection, backed up by a powerful and vocal constituency. Supporters of the Act have constantly innovated, pushed key cases and also sought to persuade successive governments to extend the Act private bodies working on behalf of public authorities.

Since 2005, but gathering pace since Tony Blair’s comments in 2010, there remains a continuous ‘fighting on the borders’ over where the Act begins and ends and whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. In 2009, supporters scored some success by persuading Gordon Brown to shorten the period of disclosure of historical records from 30 to 20 years. David Cameron’s Transparency Agenda has undoubtedly helped push further openness, as have events like the Hillsborough inquiry.

However, at the same time the scepticism from the top of government has encouraged a series of attempts to restrict the Act. This included an attempt to change the costing regime in 2006, to remove Parliament from the ambit of the Act in 2006-2007 and introduce greater protections for Cabinet documents in 2010. Only the removal of the Monarch and heir from the Act was successful, probably because it went largely unnoticed (though the Monarchy is not out of the woods yet). As of writing now, the government has hinted that it may seek to limit what it ambiguously describes as ‘industrial’ users, though this close to a General Election it’s unlikley. The fact that all but one attempt was seen off shows how strong FOI’s support base is. For now…

And so?

FOI appears to be a success and is (probably) here to stay. This is not just about numbers- it is supported, used and co-operated with by most officials. It can, and does, bring very public benefits and may also be locally bringing positive outcomes we don’t see.

It has not only led to new issues on the agenda (not least the UK’s role both in extraordinary rendition and covering it up) but also helped in the creation of a new watchdog to regulate MPs’ expenses and a change in the law over the tax status of members of the House of Lords. It has also kicked off developments like mySociety’s WhatDoTheyKnow and has popped up in all sorts of interesting areas, such as the app that lets you know if politicians are editing Wikipedia pages.

It is not without its difficulties or problems-it can be abused, misused or misunderstood. All openness brings problems of one kind or another. But the disruption and uncertainty may be an essential part of any openness law. One way of thinking of FOI is as a form of turbulence-an instrument of unpredictability, like e-petitions. So Tony Blair’s complaints may be (in part) a sign of the Act doing its job well. It is its very unpredictability and annoyance that makes it powerful. As I’ve said elsewhere, it also enshrines an important principle-but not one that lets politicians sleep soundly in their beds.[ii]

Further reading

Justice Committee (2012) Post-legislative Review of Freedom of Information here

Worthy, Ben and Hazell, Robert, The Impact of the Freedom of Information Act in the UK (August 26, 2013). Nigel Bowles, James T Hamilton, David Levy (eds) Transparency in Politics and the Media: Accountability and Open Government, London: L.B. Tauris, 31-45, 2013. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2487541 and work by the Constitution Unit here.

 

[i] I’m obliged to point out the scandal was a combination of an FOI request by Heather Brooke, four years of appeals, a court case and (finally) a good old fashioned paid for leak.

[ii] I shamelessly borrowed this from Orwell’s definition of liberty ‘If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’ (from his unpublished preface to Animal Farm) and tried to rework this to fit transparency: ‘Transparency is the right to ask questions those in power don’t want asked and look for information they don’t want us to see’ see this post.

P.S. for anyone interested, the pictured document comes from Churchill’s 1945 planning for the very aptly named ‘Operation Unthinkable’ his appraisal of the consequences of a war between the US/UK and the the USSR

[RESEARCH] Making Transparency Stick: The Dynamics of Open Data

As part of our research efforts, here’s the another update on the most important research on FOI and open data all over the world, by our intern Alexandre Salha, a researcher who worked on access to information in his native Lebanon. Today’s analysis focuses on the effectiveness of open data policy, as explored in a paper by researcher Ben Worthy.

#opengov (publicity, accountability, transparency) venn diagram - Foto di Justin Grimes (CC BY-SA 2.0)https://www.flickr.com/photos/notbrucelee/6166628554
#opengov (publicity, accountability, transparency) venn diagram – Foto di Justin Grimes (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In this paper, Ben Worthy identifies – based on the UK reform – the indicators of successful and/or failing Open Data policies.

In fact, he argues, the fate of these policies depends on the synergy built between enactment and post-enactment. Plus “policy feedback” plays an important role in assessing the impact of any reform. A strong feedback is able to build collective support among all involved actors to remake politics.

The Open Data policy in this paper is summarized under the UK’s Transparency Agenda which includes sub-policies:

  • Publishing spending data

  • Publishing service data

  • Platforms

  • Running experiments

  • Legal reforms

  • Charters and international agreements

During the enactment phase, Worthy identifies the Vision, the Symbolism and the Mechanics of Open Data policy.

First, “the vision of Open Data is powerful yet vague”. Under the umbrella of transparency, it has political, social and economic impacts on the nation as a whole. It can be used to promote more accountability, to develop public participation and/or to enhance economic growth and innovation. Hence Open Data is also unclear.

Some mistaken thoughts about technology of Open Data being as a solution for political problems are made, a very deterministic thought, standing between technology of Open Data and the politics of Open Government.

Second, Open Data is a symbolic policy yet voteless. According to Worthy, it offers on one side, transformative opportunities to remake politics under the democratic values, such as accountability, participation and empowerment; but, on the other side, although it attracts political support, it bring no electoral advantages.

Corruzione in Italia: servono politiche efficaci, non retorica della trasparenza.

Indice di Corruzione Percepita: la mappa
Corruption Perception Index 2014: la mappa internazionale

Lo scorso 3 dicembre Transparency International ha pubblicato il suo annuale Corruption Perception Index (CPI), l’Indice di Corruzione Percepita.
Anche quest’anno l’Italia ha un pessimo piazzamento, di fatto invariato rispetto allo scorso anno: 69° posto, tra gli ultimi paesi europei, con soli 43 punti su 100.

Cosa significa?
Lo scrive chiaramente Ernesto Belisario su Wired Italia:

Lo stallo italiano ha un significato ben preciso: le politiche degli ultimi anni, anche normative, in materia di lotta alla corruzione (e trasparenza) non hanno funzionato!

Il quadro è sconfortante: le nostre amministrazioni non sono state capaci di utilizzare adeguatamente Internet come strumento di trasparenza, gli open data non hanno avuto l’impatto sperato e – ancora una volta – manca un Freedom of Information Act, una legge in grado di ribaltare la logica della trasparenza, per come è concepita in Italia.

Lo dice, ancora una volta, anche Belisario: “Non è più il cittadino a dover dimostrare il proprio interesse a conoscere un determinato dato o documento (“need to know”), ma è l’amministrazione – se intende negare l’accesso all’informazione o al documento – a dover provare l’esistenza di ragioni (previste per legge) che impediscano di soddisfare la richiesta del cittadino (“right to know”)“.

Il Freedom of Information Act è la pietra angolare della trasparenza e c’è sempre più bisogno di una buona legge a riguardo.

La campagna Foia4Italy – con la relativa proposta di legge – è la voce della società civile che chiede al governo politiche anti-corruzione con strategia e visione, fuori dalla “retorica della trasparenza” che abbiamo visto troppo spesso.

[RESEARCH] Open data policies and practice: an international comparison

As part of our research efforts, here’s the first update on the most important research on FOI and open data all over the world, by our intern Alexandre Salha, a researcher who worked on access to information in his native Lebanon. We start with a paper by researcher Tim Davies, describing policies and practices of Open Data across 6 countries with Open Government Data Initiatives (OGD).

OpenDataBarometer
Italy in the Open Data Barometer (CC-BY-SA)

Davies’ analysis starts with two main points: first, that governments have different agendas on which they developed OGD initiatives; and second, an international cooperation between technical experts and government is required to implement open data polices.

Based on the Open Data Barometer (2013), results appear to define transparency and accountability as the most discussed topic related to open data.
However, this requires on one side information disclosure, in bulk; and on the other side government’s collaboration and citizens’ involvement. Plus, many governments are adopting open data policies, but do so with no impact on transparency and accountability, and especially with no results in terms of citizens’ participation in policy making.
This is why open data needs transparency, participation and collaboration.

As a matter of fact, Davies noted that the concept of open data is driven by different political agendas and is applied accordingly. Thus, he highlighted the shift from policies emphasized by democratic justifications towards more managerial and economic reasons.

Looking at the profiles on OGD initiatives, Denmark and India launched their initiatives based on improving government handling of information. At the moment, Denmark is focusing on innovation and government efficiency (OGP Action Plan 2012 – OGP Action Plan 2013/2014), while India is more focused on the private sector and commercial data re-use.
In the Philippines and Kenya, and even in early stages in the UK and USA, open data was a core component of democracy, participation and accountability. Nevertheless, it evolved and became a tool in the UK and USA in response to the consequences of the global economic crisis; a tool to empower citizens and support a growing technology sector in Kenya (OGP Action Plan, 2012); and a mean to improve public understanding of government in the Philippines (OGP Action Plan 2013-2015).

According to Davies,

“two organizations stand out as instrumental in the dissemination of the idea of adopting open data policies: The Open Government Partnership, and the World Bank”.

Those organizations provide new technologies to promote the dissemination of information among State departments and the public. They develop an international cooperation process in order to draft new policies based on good practices, and support the government in their process of implementing them.
However, he concludes that two main issues are yet to be dealt with:

  • The time at which certain policy elements first emerge across any of the policies studied;
  • The connections between certain policy elements and stated goals in different countries, and at different points in time.

 

More info (referenced in the paper)

 

Transparency Italia: urgenza di regolamentare le lobby. E il FOIA è il primo passo.

La trasparenza dell’attività di lobbying è ai livelli minimi. Lo afferma un nuovo report di Transparency International Italia dal titolo Lobbying e Democrazia.

L’analisi dello stato dell’arte del settore valuta tre dimensioni fondamentali: trasparenza, integrità e pari opportunità di accesso ai processi decisionali.
Nel report si legge:

Come evidenzia Gianluca Sgueo, la mancanza di consapevolezza sociale sulla vera natura del
lobbying e sulle attività dei lobbisti è dovuta a vari fattori: i politici, il mondo accademico, l’intera società civile, e perfino gli stessi lobbisti, hanno più volte fallito nel tentativo di creare una regolamentazione e di sviluppare e indirizzare il dibattito pubblico sulla questione in modo da renderla neutrale agli occhi dei cittadini ed indebolire quei pregiudizi profondamente radicati che vanno a discapito dell’intera categoria.

Ed è proprio il vuoto normativo, unito alla percezione di una politica in mano a pochi grandi gruppi, che rende sempre più urgente.
Ancora Transparency Italia:

Dall’analisi condotta da TI-Italia emerge infatti uno scenario sconfortante che classifica il nostro paese tra i peggiori in Europa, con un punteggio di 20 su 100.
In particolare il livello di accesso dei cittadini alle informazioni sulle attività di lobbying (“trasparenza”) raggiunge uno scarso 11%; la valutazione degli standard e dei codici di comportamento dei lobbisti e dei decisori pubblici (“integrità”) arriva al 27%; infine l’equità di accesso e partecipazione al processo decisionale (“parità nelle condizioni di accesso”) ottiene solo 22 punti su 100.

Come scriveva lo stesso Sgueo nel suo libro “Lobbying e lobbismi”, dal 1948 a oggi ci sono stati più di 50 tentativi di regolamentare il tema, mai andati a buon fine.

Ieri, in un convegno di presentazione del rapporto, svoltosi presso la Camera dei Deputati.
Tra le raccomandazioni del report c’è anche l’introduzione di un Freedom of Information Act. Virginio Carnevali, presidente di Transparency Italia, ha ricordato l’importanza del FOIA come primo passo per la trasparenza delle lobby e la campagna Foia4Italy, per avere finalmente una legge in questo senso.
L’auspicio è stato condiviso anche dai deputati Luigi Di Maio (Vice Presidente della Camera, M5S) e Giuseppe Civati (PD), presenti al convegno.

Al momento un gruppo di lavoro alla Camera sta discutendo la creazione di un regolamento, che però fatica a vedere la luce. Ieri, però, è stato annunciato un primo passo: la restrizione dell’accesso agli uffici delle commissioni parlamentari per i lobbisti.

Diritto Di Sapere sostiene MANS contro gli attacchi a Vanja Calovic

Vanja Calovic - Foto di Angus Young
Vanja Calovic – Foto di Angus Young

La trasparenza e la lotta alla corruzione sono battaglie che conducono molte organizzazioni in tutti i Paesi del mondo.

In Montenegro l’ong MANS si occupa di investigare corruzione, conflitto di interessi, attività del Parlamento. Negli ultimi mesi alcuni media (vicini al governo montenegrino) stanno portando avanti una campagna diffamatoria contro Vanja Calovic, direttore esecutivo di MANS, pubblicando video falsi per screditarla.

L’attacco arriva poco dopo la scoperta, da parte di MANS, di frodi elettorali da parte del partito dell’attuale primo ministro Djukanovic. Qui la storia completa nel racconto fatto da Reuters.

Diritto Di Sapere si unisce alla comunità internazionale di organizzazioni che si occupano di trasparenza nel sostenere MANS e Vanja Calovic e condannare questa campagna mediatica.