Sociologist says “access to information is a fundamental human right”

A sociologist talks about the importance of citizens accessing information:

Access to information is a fundamental human right and democracy can’t function unless you know what government is doing, Dominique Clement, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, said Monday.

“By denying people access to information, you’re denying a human right and you’re denying them knowledge of how governments work, and ultimately that harms our democracy,” Clement, a sociology professor, said during a Canadian Historical Association panel discussion at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Calling freedom of information law in Canada “draconian,” Clement, who’s filled about 500 information requests throughout his career, said reform needs to happen nationwide in order for those laws to be effective.

He said privacy commissioners in the provinces should become more arm’s length than they are now and should be answerable to the legislative assembly or parliament, not to any premier or prime minister.

I wonder how democratic governments would respond to this argument. I imagine they would support it and then argue that certain information need to be protected because of national security and other reasons. One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that there is quite a bit of public/government information that is not easily accessible. Of course, non-democratic governments may not be too happy with these arguments as restricting information is deemed vital – see Iran’s recent efforts to create a national Intranet.

But this is related to a thought I have had in the past: is Internet access, particularly because of its ability to share and produce information, going to become a human right in the near future? Should rights regarding information apply to all information on the Internet or just “vital information” that citizens might need to participate in the civic realm? What would be the response in Western nations if Internet access was severely limited, even if a case could be made for it (like a threat of attack)?

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