Tag Archives: freedom of information

On Being Misquoted – Access Info Europe and Freedominfo.org

I’ve just been alerted to a new post out on Freedominfo.org has quotes of mine that are used in way that is deeply disappointing. It’s never fund to see your ideas misused to make it appear that you are against something that you deeply support.

The most disappointing misquote comes from Helen Darbishire, a European FOI expert at Access Info Europe. Speaking about the convergence between open data and access to information laws (FOIA) she “lamented that comments like Eaves’ exacerbate divisions at a time when  “synergies” are developing at macro and micro levels.” The comment she is referring to is this one:

“I just think FOIA is broken; the wait time makes it broken….” David Eaves, a Canadian open government “evangelist,” told the October 2011 meeting of International information commissioners. He said “efforts to repair it are at the margins” and governments have little incentive for reform.

I’m not sure if Darbishire was present at the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners where I made this comment in front of a room of mostly FOI experts but the comment actually got a very warm reception. Specifically, I was talking about how the wait times of access to information requests – not theidea of Access to Information. The fact is, that for many people waiting 4-30 weeks for a response from a government for a piece of information makes the process broken. In addition, I often see the conversation among FOIA experts focus on how to reduce that time by a week or a few days. But for most people, that will still leave them feeling like the system is too slow and so, in their mind, broken, particularly in a world where people are increasingly used to getting the information they want in about .3 seconds (the length of a Google search).

What I find particularly disappointing about Darbishire’s comments is that I’ve been advocating for for the open data and access to information communities to talk more to one another – indeed long before I find any reference of her calling for it. Back in April during the OGP meeting I wrote:

There remain important and interest gaps particularly between the more mature “Access to Information” community and the younger, still coalescing “Gov2.0/OpenGov/Tech/Transparency” community. It often feels like members of the access to information community are dismissive of the technology aspects of the open government movement in general and the OGP in particular. This is disappointing as technology is likely going to have a significant impact on the future of access to information. As more and more government work gets digitized, how way we access information is going to change, and the opportunities to architect for accessibility (or not) will become more important. These are important conversations and finding a way to knit these two communities together more could help the advance everyone’s thinking.

And of course, rather than disparage Access to Information as a concept I frequently praise it, such as during this article about the challenges of convergence between open data and access to information:

Let me pause to stress, I don’t share the above to disparage FOI. Quite the opposite. It is a critical and important tool and I’m not advocating for its end. Nor am I arguing the open data can – in the short or even medium term – solve the problems raised above.

That said, I’m willing to point out the failures of both Open Data and Access to information. But to then cherry pick my comments about FOIA and paint me as someone who is being unhelpful strikes me as problematic.

I feel doubly that way since, not only have I advocated for efforts to bridge the communities, I’ve tried to make efforts to make it happen. I was the one who suggested that Warren Krafchik – the Civil Society co-chair of the Open Government Partnership be invited to the Open Knowledge Festival to help with a conversation around helping bring the two communities together and reached out to him with the invitation.

If someone wants to label me as someone who is opinionated in the space, that’s okay – I do have opinions about what works and what doesn’t work and try to share them, sometimes in a constructive way, and sometimes – such as when on a panel – in a way that helps spur discussion. But to lay the charge of being divisive, when I’ve been trying for several years to bridge the conversation and bring the open data perspective into the FOIA community, feels unfair and problematic.