The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brings unprecedented challenges for our society, both nationally and globally. The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) has joined over three dozen of its colleagues worldwide to support the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC) in its statement acknowledging the challenges public authorities face in the current pandemic and reiterating the importance of the right to access information.
The ICIC, which connects information commissioners, ombudsmen and other bodies charged with overseeing the implementation of public access laws around the world, welcomed OGIS as an accredited member last fall. The ICIC’s values of Respect and Integrity, Collaboration, Inclusiveness, Transparency and Accountability closely align with OGIS’s values of Transparency, Collaboration, Effectiveness and Learning, as well as the values of the National Archives and Records Administration – Collaborate, Innovate and Learn.
At its most recent meeting, the 16 members of the ICIC Governance Working Group adopted and published a statement which recognizes that in this current climate, “public organisations will rightly focus their resources on protecting public health.” The statement also recognizes the ICIC’s “role in taking a pragmatic approach, for example, around how quickly public bodies respond to requests.” However, the ICIC also encourages public bodies to “recognise the value of clear and transparent communication, and of good record-keeping, in what will be a much analysed period of history” and reminds everyone that “the importance of the right to access information remains.”
The ICIC, and its ability to bring together members from around the world to share knowledge and best practices, is especially important during this worldwide health emergency. To help that sharing of expertise and experience, the ICIC will create a webpage to capture any newly introduced legislation that affects the ability to access information in member jurisdictions, as well as any statements or guidance issued by information commissioners on the Right of Access to Public Information in the context of the global pandemic.