At the international level, the rights of listeners and receivers of information are expressly protected along with and in equal measure to the rights of speakers. While the right to receive information has many facets, in practice it has emerged most powerfully from the proliferation of Freedom of Information and other access-to-information laws now in place in over 90 national jurisdictions. Indeed, it is now a basic tenet of international law that individuals have a concrete right to access government-held information, subject to certain enumerated exceptions such as security and individual privacy. This right, like the right to free expression generally, is a critical “gateway” right necessary to protect other fundamental democratic rights such as public participation and government accountability and anti-corruption. As the Supreme Court of India has stated, “[w]here a society has chosen to accept democracy as its creedal faith, it is elementary that the citizens ought to know what their government is doing.” Even more succinctly stated by the Inter-American Court: “a society that is not well-informed is not a society that is truly free.”
The right to access information can also serve as a critical gateway right to the protection of a range of other rights pertaining to health, land, natural resources, FPIC, self-determination, and more. Information is power, and too often information disparity is used to further marginalize and manipulate affected individuals and communities. The right to access information can extend to information of critical importance to protecting one’s right, irrespective of who holds the information, especially in cases where private parties are allowed by government through “indirect methods or means” to exercise control over information of a fundamentally public or rights-concerning nature.
Through its counsel, consulting, and communications practices, Forum Nobis works with affected individuals and communities to gain access to critical information through Freedom of Information petitions, legal cases, and other available means. Forum Nobis has particular experience fighting efforts by governments and corporation to withhold critical public information under the pretext of “trade secret,” corporate privacy, or similar rationales that may in application be inconsistent with the right to access information.