The International Day for Universal Access to Information

Information is a powerful tool that can be used to create, destroy and heal. During the Covid19 pandemic, we urgently needed our public information to coordinate better between agencies and inform citizens. 

In every country, the need for access to precise and relevant information has never been greater. On the one hand, we have governments collecting more data than ever before; on the other, in times of crisis like we are experiencing now, people still don’t feel adequately informed about what is going on in their country. 

The dramatic increase in the number of people who need government data motivated software developers to help in the process of digitalization, but companies need open data, and most of the time, they couldn’t get access to it. 

The significance of access to information has been recognized by the UN and UNESCO, who have proclaimed 28 September as International Day for Universal Access to Information. This day was first established globally in 2015. 

Still, the actual focus on the importance of open data sets started last year when developers wanted to help the general public be more informed about recent events. That’s when some of them realized that their hands were tied. 

But let’s go a few steps back.


What is open data?

Open data is the idea that government-held data should be made available for free to all without restriction. Governments are making some of their information open by default. Usually, it can include anything from national statistics like GDP and unemployment rates to city-specific crime reports. Around the world, countries are opening up more and more datasets on an ongoing basis, but there is still a long way to go before the public can access everything they want or need.


Why do we need open access to government data?

Open access means that anyone can use or share government data without restrictions on usage, including commercial entities and individuals who don’t have a connection with any specific organization. Without open access, agencies are limited in developing new products for research, education, and innovation because they may be unable to efficiently reuse existing datasets due to copyright restrictions.


What is the main problem with getting access to open data?

When adopted, access to information laws play an essential role in upholding and protecting the public’s right to information, especially in situations of uncertainty when the demand for data is high. However, in countries where such laws are inadequate or limited, various implementation aspects are delayed, and governments fail to respond proactively to information requests. There may also be instances of inadequacy in terms of transparency. 


That’s why the theme of the 2021 International Day for Universal Access to Information will highlight the role of access to information laws and their implementation to build back trustworthy institutions for the public good and sustainable development.