The issues of secrecy in governments, and personal lives have never been more important. Different parties on different levels are constantly looking for the ways to hide some information or to make some other information known to the public. Though, there is also one more issue in the legislation that came to openly exist early in the 90s. This issue is either the people should be granted the right to access their personal files or not.
I would like to start the examination of this question through presenting the advantages for a person to be granted the right to access his/her secret files. To begin with, it must be said that today many bodies, both public and private, hold files on the people they deal with. What is even more remarkable is that important decisions about the person may be made on the basis of his/her file. Thus, the person should have a right to access all his/her secret files in order to check what information is there about him/her and dispute it if it is unfair or incorrect. In this way, the person would not be just the passive observer waiting for the verdict.
Another strong advantage of the free access to secret files is that, having accessed those files the person becomes familiar with the history of his past. This advantage is especially important for the ex-communist countries in which a lot about the lives of those who lived in the 1950s-1980s is hidden. After obtaining the access to these files a person may suddenly discover the belonging to the noble family or even find documents proving the right for inheritance. The third example I would like to present also relates to the process that is very popular all over the world right now. With the development of the European Union, after many more countries have joined in, it became very popular to apply for the EU citizenship, when discovering that your ancestors lived in the member countries. The person will be able to obtain this information only if the access to the person secret files will be free.
Now I would like to shortly present three disadvantages of granting people with this free-access ability. To begin with, the process of the legislation is very long and complicated because many years were spent on preserving this information. Thus, the process may seem too lengthy for both the government and the people. In my mind it is also unnecessary to grant a right to access the medical files. Indeed, a person has a full right to know what is going on with him/her, though sometimes it is better not to know the awful truth or all of it when it comes to the health files. This is so partly because it can harm the sick person even more, as well as not all the people are in the state of adequate mental capacity and can handle this process. Lastly, I think that in some way, letting people to access their files will go against the democratic law in the public. When opening secret files there is always a possibility to come by something negative that may later become known and forever change the person’s life.
Different countries took different approaches on this issue. In Georgia’s Administrative Code there is a section on the “Freedom of Information” that states that “information kept, received or held by a public agency should be open”. In Canada the access was granted in 1983. The document provides Canadians the right to apply for and obtain copies of records held by government institutions. When it comes to Pakistan, the situation is different. The Constitution of Pakistan does not particularly give a right of access to information. It does stay that every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, though the amendment about the right to information were added later and were not very successful in implementation.
Above I have presented the pros and cons of the free access of citizens to their person files as well as I have given three examples of countries that decided to go along with or against with the issue. In my opinion, the right to access the files should be given to people, because every individual has a full right to know who he/she is and supervise the decisions that are made on his behalf. Though, what the information can be a dangerous weapon and it should be used very carefully. This tool as a justice method, being democratic in his nature can bring along undemocratic processes, thus it should not be the first step in transitional legislation.
Sources: Access to Information Act, C. A-1. http://www.infocom.gc.ca/acts/pdfs/accessact.pdf Banisar, David, Freedom of Information, Around the World 2006 A Global Survey of Access to Government Records Laws, July, 2006. http://www.freedominfo.org/documents/global_survey2006.pdf Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. http://www.pakistani.org/pakistan/constitution/ Fighting Corruption in Transition Economies: Georgia OECD 2005, Article 19, Under Lock and Key: Freedom of Information and the Media in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, April 2005. Freedom of Information Rules 2004. http://www.crcp.org.pk/PDF%20Files/FOI%20Rules%202004.PDF General Administrative Code of Georgia 2002. http://www.ifes.ge/files/laws/code_general.html. For more information see IRIS, Freedom
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