In the broadest sense, freedom of information is the public's right to a free flow of information in society. This includes our rights to freedom of expression and access to information without undue restrictions imposed by government, corporations or other entities.
In the narrower sense in which we use it on this website, FOI is another term for the right of access to government information. We use these terms interchangeably.
Privacy, as we define it, is the ability or right to have a "private life" - to be left alone, free from illegal or unwanted scrutiny and intrusions.
Privacy rights include informational privacy - the right to control or limit the collection, use and disclosure of one's own personal information by other agencies, whether they are part of government or the private sector.
Since knowledge brings power to those who possess it, knowledge of our private lives tends to increase the power and influence that governments and corporations have over us. Some limits must be imposed in order to maintain the delicate balance of power that sustains our democracy.
"Privacy protection" means defending the privacy of individuals by legislation or other means.
People often ask why FIPA seeks to advance two human rights that may seem to be contradictory. The answer is, because FIPA's main goal is to empower individuals by helping to increase both their access to and their control of information. Both FOI and privacy rights increase the power of the individual in society, which is why we refer to both of them as "information rights".
Information rights provide individuals with a much-needed counterbalance to the far greater access to and control of information enjoyed by governments and other powerful organizations. Information rights improve our democracy by reducing this imbalance of power in a society that is increasingly dominated by the uses and abuses of information.
Further, our right as individuals to know what is going on in society must exist in balance with the right to individual privacy.
Together, information rights help to create:
- an informed electorate,
- open, honest and accountable government,
- greater citizen participation in the democratic process, and
- greater protection of individual human rights.
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