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Cchallenge for freedom of information

Following is a media release from the International Conference of Information Commissioners being held  in Wellington this week. 


For more information please call 021 298 7774 or 021 475 045 – or the full programme is available at







Media release


Electronic age presents challenge for freedom of information

The growing amount of records kept on computers is complicating things when it comes to digging out information under freedom of information laws. 

This is according to Professor John McMillan, Commonwealth Ombudsman in Australia who says governments administering Freedom of Information laws are facing a major challenge with the massive increase in electronically stored information. This is making it more difficult to carry out official information requests.

“For example records that are deleted from a system may still be available in back up systems and it can be more time consuming and expensive for agencies to locate records to comply with an FOI request.”

Professor McMillan says the predicted “paperless office” has not eventuated and most offices have as much paper as they did 20 years ago.  He says on top of this though we have a huge amount of electronically stored information.

He says emails present a particular problem in that their informal nature means they are often seen by staff as “not official”.

“There can be an understandable reluctance by agencies to disclose ill-thought-out and draft ideas expressed in emails.  They may have been rejected by senior staff in the agencies because they didn’t reflect the views of the agencies. 

Professor McMillan is one of the presenters at the International Conference of Information Commissioners being held in Wellington 26 to 29 November, which draws representatives from many of the 70 countries that have freedom of information legislation.  

The conference marks the 25th anniversary of New Zealand’s Official Information Act. 

Professor McMillan says New Zealand and Australia led other regions in the world in developing FOI laws and are able to demonstrate their deep knowledge and mastery of the processes, with considerable experience in both good and bad FOI practices.

“Freedom of Information laws have reached the status that they are now laws of fundamental constitutional significance … in short you couldn’t have an enlightened democratic system nowadays that did not include an FOI law,” he says.




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