In November 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a resolution declaring September 28th of every year as International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). “The universal right to information is essential for societies to function democratically and for the well-being of each individual,” UNESCO wrote in its proclamation. “Freedom of information or the right to information is an integral part of the fundamental right to freedom of expression.” UNESCO hopes that by observing IDUAI each year, more countries will adopt freedom of information (FOI) legislation, develop policies for multilingualism and cultural diversity in cyberspace, and ensure that this effort is accessible to all.
On September 28, 2018, UNESCO, in conjunction with the World Bank and the Government of Colombia, organized IDUAI for the Latin American Region at the University of Los Andes Law Center in Bogotá; OGIS Director Alina M. Semo was honored to participate in this event. The day-long symposium highlighted three main topics:
- Challenges for the Implementation of FOI Laws;
- Access to Information, Memory and Truth; and
- Access to Information and Good Governance.
Director Semo provided the keynote address for the first topic, titled Access to Information in the United States and Contemporary Challenges to the Freedom of Information Act. Director Semo took the audience on a brief journey through the evolution of access to information in the United States through the lens of the FOIA, explained OGIS’s role in the FOIA process, and discussed some of the tools OGIS uses to improve implementation of the law. She ended the presentation by laying out four big challenges to implementation of a robust access to information regime:
- providing access to records that are not created or stored in ways that make them particularly easy to locate or release;
- the wide variety of records formats at U.S. government agencies;
- finding and keeping talented employees in FOIA; and
- an ever-growing volume of electronic records.
We at OGIS salute UNESCO’s efforts to shed light on the importance of access to information, and we look forward to future IDUAI celebrations.