Coinciding nicely with the recent convening of the Open Government Partnership, a global effort to make governments more transparent, effective and accountable, OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet is privileged to have traveled to China recently to meet with government officials and university faculty and students in conjunction with Yale Law School’s China Law Center. The context for the visit was China’s three-year-old regulation on open government information, which provides for both proactive disclosure at all levels of government and disclosure upon request. (Who knew?) Though the U.S. and Chinese information laws differ in a number of respects, the trip’s hosts at Zhejiang University Law School, Peking University and the China University of Political Science and Law were very eager to hear about the American experience with freedom of information laws, both Federal and state. Peking University’s Center for Public Participation Studies sponsored a seminar in honor of International Right to Know Day, September 28.
Immediately upon returning to North America, Nisbet participated in the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners in Ottawa, Canada, attended by representatives of government and nongovernmental organizations, members of the media and academics – all interested in promoting and improving access to government information. Information commissioners from 23 countries endorsed in principle a resolution calling on governments to enshrine the right to information in national laws and declaring support for the Open Government Declaration published in September 2011 in New York. The U.S. FOIA is among the older laws on the books, but more than 90 countries now have similar laws, the majority of which have passed since 2000. It’s fascinating to exchange experiences, obstacles and successes with our colleagues from around the world!
Nisbet wasn’t the only OGIS staff member traveling recently. Journalists comprise a good bit of OGIS’s customer base, so OGIS was glad to attend the 2011 Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism Convention in September. It was a great opportunity to engage in outreach and participate in a panel discussion on access to government records. OGIS Attorney Advisor Corinna Zarek joined Mark Caramanica, the Freedom of Information Director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, to discuss tips and strategies to make the FOIA process work more smoothly. The session, titled “Be a Public Records Ninja: Overcoming Stonewalls and Denials,” focused on suggestions to use from the start of the FOIA request process to avoid running into snags. They also discussed strategies for overcoming any hurdles that may arise.