Reading, video & forum activity: Freedom of information

Access to Information and Freedom of Information Act

UNESCO defines Freedom of Information (FOI) as “the right to access information held by public bodies”. UNESCO refers specifically to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. [1]

Freedom of Information laws (or in some countries FOI Act)  mandate governments to disclose certain data to the general public upon request. By giving people the rights to request and obtain government documents, FOI laws have proven a powerful way to track what governments are doing [2]. In the hands of actively engaged citizens and investigative journalists FOI laws have led to the detection of many governmental wrongdoings.

Let’s see an illustrative example of FOI in practice: In 2015, The Guardian published an article on how students use FOI to investigate their universities. Students use the FOI Act to get data on University’s budget spending, the number of permanent teaching staff from ethnic minorities, data on the gender pay gap... sometimes it’s about the number of animals used in research experiments or the number of appeals by students against academic decisions. Having this data accessible, can help students advocate and initiate changes in the way University operates and sets its priorities.


[1] Unesco. Freedom of information.

[2]Piotrowski, S., Ingrams, A. & Berliner, D. (2018). Could the open government movement shut the door on Freedom of Information? In The Conversation.

To better understand Freedom of Information as a universal right, check this video by UNESCO (1:45):

Last modified: Tuesday, 14 June 2022, 10:40 PM