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Distinguish key terms

In the scholarship that pertains to legal institution of open government, a variety of terms have been utilized. Close to each other in meaning, they contain distinct significances that need differentiation.  

Freedom of Information (FOI): More than a negative freedom, it involves a presumptive right ascribed to individuals of access to information held by public authorities. Usually it is used interchangeably with “access to information” (ATI).  

Right to Know:It signifies that the public, especially the media, can legitimately claim to acquire information from the government for effective public scrutiny of government’s functioning, and the satisfaction of this right is prerequisite for a genuine democracy. The term is more employed to express the democratic idea than to refer to a legally enforceable right. 

Government Openness: It goes beyond access to documents in requiring opening up the processes and meetings of public authorities. But it is also claimed by governments as a means of providing access to information under nonlegally binding codes that do not create right, thus avoiding the creation of enforceable legal obligation (Birkinshaw 2006) 

Transparency:Though similar to openness, transparency extends beyond openness in that lawmaking and the public administration should be made as accessible and comprehensible as possible. If openness means allowing public observation, transparency further requires simplifying the information provided so that external receptors are capable of understanding it. (Hood, Heald et al. 2006)


Birkinshaw, P. (2006). “Freedom of information and openness: Fundamental human rights?” Administrative Law Review 58(1): 177-218

Hood, C., D. Heald, et al., Eds. (2006). Transparency : the key to better governance? Oxford ; New York, Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press

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