Freedom of information
Industrial age ushered in the information age and it has continually revolutionized our lives in the last several decades. The information age has been powered primarily by technology especially computing technology. Computing technology reinvented the way information is collected, processed, stored, disseminated and shared amongst those with information needs. All organizations, governments and individuals are banking on information to gain a competitive age in their projects. However, all information does not have the same value, therefore each piece of information is handled differently. This differentiated handling of information has led to various moral, ethical, political and constitutional debates. Information is broadly categorized into public, private and confidential information but the boundaries between these classes is very fluid. Thus, some people continually push for certain information to be confidential while others insist it should be accessible in the public domain. These debates have coined a new phrase, ‘freedom of information’ which each faction defends vehemently.
Information access is guided by policies and those who seek information freedom seek to revise these policies to allow free public access to certain information. The custodians of this information believe that the value of the information is detrimental to the public or would compromise their efforts to have a competitive edge against their competitors or enemies. Mostly, freedom of information is a debate in which the public push the government to release some information that is in their possession but not freely accessible. The governments have several reasons for withholding the information that they believe would be better if they kept it away from the public. On the other hand, the public demands to know what the government has since the sovereign power belongs to the people in most democracies.
Some of the reason information is withheld is to prevent it from reaching their enemies or competitors. Information can also be withheld if it is likely to cause public fear or panic. Such information is mostly in regard of impending danger or on unidentified foreign objects. Governments and organizations also withhold information to protect their secrets that give them competitive edge in governance. It is certain that some information must be protected and the custodians of such information coerced to implement security features to protect that information. For example, information on defense systems and their capacity, information on new weapons under development, health information of individual in that state etc. This information must be protected because its importance is crucial for survival of that state and for health information it violates the privacy rights of an individual. Therefore, such information must not be accessible to anyone even under public pressure as it compromises its damaging effects are irreparable.
Those who seek freedom of information push for transparency and accountability of the institutions protecting this information. Crucial information that is of public nature can be hidden for malicious gains of few individuals. Some people cite that governments hide information on their extra judicial killings and it must be exposed to seek justice for those individuals who lost their lives and also prosecute the perpetrators of those heinous crimes. Since the boundary of information value is very fluid and subjective coupled with the human factors that seeks to cover up their tracks, information freedom calls will continue to be made to ensure transparency and accountability.
Concisely, information is power. Some people say that power is taken not given and therefore the activists for information freedom seek to take this power and bestow it upon the people. However, since the value of information is highly subjective depending on those in possession of that information and those seeking to access it, the war if far from being won.