09 September 2007

Fun with FOI

Living in this political cocoon that is Singapore, not many people have heard of a concept called a Freedom of Information Act. Here are three examples of citizens in other countries attempting to use it to effect, not that they always succeed. Full essay.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

freedom of information would confuse and distract people from doing what they have been instructed to do; it is for people higher up to have information and make decisions

hugewhaleshark said...

We need an FOI act because people hide information on something they've done which they know is wrong, or shameful. If there's a chance they'll be exposed, they'll think twice.

Anonymous said...

this might be a good occasion to discuss the current issue of annuity: the online petition and protest was an abject failure in gathering support, yet I am quite sure people were generally negative about the idea; how can this be proved (or, for the government, assuming they think it necessary,disproved? only by asking people to voluntarily join the scheme and see how many % actually do so; if this fails, then make the scheme compulsory

but obviously, no government would want to go through such a process; it is far easier to make it compulsory to start with, and avoid putting the idea to the test; so you see policy making often requires the lack of information

in any case, my information is that there are only 25000 people over the age of 85 in Singapore right now; so if everyone (not all these people are citizens, but let's ignore this) gets $300 a month, the annual cost is only around 100M; this is chickenfeed; this is why I feel it is far better for the government to just give every citizen over 85 a pension, and avoid all the discussion and argument about the annuity idea; again, less information is better

sgsociety.com

Robert L said...

Quote:
"Actually, every country has something equivalent to an Official Secrets Act, but since Singapore's reputation is already so bad, reporters might as well throw "draconian" in for good measure."

The reporters were right to add "draconian".

In any sensible country, official secrets are meant to protect military and certain dealings with foreign governments. It's not used for business agreements. In business deals, you have the civil equivalents for confidentiality which have far less powers.

So it's indeed strange that Singapore would use the Official Secrets Act to cover business deals. That would be deemed draconian.

Anonymous said...

It is information that allows our government to place restraints on our society. There are definitely a lot of hidden information, even the basic ones included.

OSA is their vehicle to stop the probing. Even if they introduce FOI, it will look like OSA.

Control, as it is.

Anonymous said...

I'm puzzled if OSA can be used as a defence by the govt to prevent disclosure of the information.

Having read the Act from statutes.agc.gov.sg, it seems to me that OSA was originally designed and probably still is, aimed against espionage activity.

In this case, is the university intentionally using it to hoodwink the newspaperman, as damage control?

Section 5 of the OSA is reproduced in full for your consideration.

Wrongful communication, etc., of information
5. —(1) If any person having in his possession or control any secret official code word, countersign or password, or any photograph, drawing, plan, model, article, note, document or information which —

(a) relates to or is used in a prohibited place or anything in such a place;

(b) relates to munitions of war;

(c) has been made or obtained in contravention of this Act;

(d) has been entrusted in confidence to him by any person holding office under the Government; or

(e) he has obtained, or to which he has had access, owing to his position as a person who holds or has held office under the Government, or as a person who holds, or has held a contract made on behalf of the Government or any specified organisation, or as a person who is or has been employed under a person who holds or has held such an office or contract,

does any of the following:

(i) communicates directly or indirectly any such information or thing as aforesaid to any foreign Power other than a foreign Power to whom he is duly authorised to communicate it, or to any person other than a person to whom he is authorised to communicate it or to whom it is his duty to communicate it;

(ii) uses any such information or thing as aforesaid for the benefit of any foreign Power other than a foreign Power for whose benefit he is authorised to use it, or in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interests of Singapore;

(iii) retains in his possession or control any such thing as aforesaid when he has no right to retain it, or when it is contrary to his duty to retain it, or fails to comply with all lawful directions issued by lawful authority with regard to the return or disposal thereof; or

(iv) fails to take reasonable care of, or so conducts himself as to endanger the safety or secrecy of, any such information or thing as aforesaid,

that person shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) If any person receives any secret official code word, countersign, password, or any photograph, drawing, plan, model, article, note, document or information knowing, or having reasonable ground to believe, at the time when he receives it, that the code word, countersign, password, photograph, drawing, plan, model, article, note, document or information is communicated to him in contravention of this Act, he shall be guilty of an offence unless he proves that the communication to him of the code word, countersign, password, photograph, drawing, plan, model, article, note, document or information was contrary to his desire.

(3) In any proceedings against a person for an offence under this section, where it is proved that that person is or has been in the employment or service of any foreign Power or government in breach of any undertaking which he has made with the Government or any specified organisation, he shall be deemed to be in possession or control of such information or thing as is referred to in subsection (1) and to have unlawfully communicated that information to a foreign Power or to have used that information or thing in a manner prejudicial to the safety or interests of Singapore.

(4) In subsection (3), “undertaking” means any undertaking in writing which a public officer or any other person has made with the Government or any specified organisation whereby the officer or person undertakes not to serve or be employed by any foreign Power or government within a specified period after his retirement or resignation from the public service or that specified organisation or otherwise unless he has obtained the prior approval of the Government.

SGDaily said...

Hi Alex,

Your entry has been featured in The Singapore Daily. Thank you for your support!

The Singapore Daily Team
singaporedaily.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

We are not invited. I hope that this news will not fall under OSA too.

http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=548

The diverse group of 16 governments that make up the Community of Democracies Convening Group, which is responsible for issuing invitations to the club’s fourth ministerial meeting, decided not to invite Thailand, Fiji, Singapore, Qatar, Venezuela, Bangladesh and Tunisia, all of whom had participated in or observed the last meeting held in Santiago in 2005. Their exclusion is consistent with the recommendations of the experts panel and underscores the Convening Group’s determination to keep out those governments which have failed to uphold the democracy and human rights commitments of the group.