About ATI

Click here for Jordan Access to Information Law – Arabic

Click here for Official ATI Form – Paper Version

What is ATI?
Access to Information (ATI), sometimes referred to as ‘freedom of information’, is the ability to access the government information that you want. It is a fundamental human right, a cornerstone of democracy and an important aspect of transparent governance. A 2007 law stipulates that Jordanians have the legal right to access different forms of government information and records, whether written, recorded or photographed.
Why is ATI Important?
Access to information is a fundamental human and civil rightFreedom of information is a human right. As early as 1946, the United Nations General Assembly declared in Resolution 59 (1) that: “Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right […] the touchstone of all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated”, and “an essential feature in any serious effort to promote the peace and progress of the world”. Many other international treaties and declarations have said the same. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Arab League’s 2004 Charter on Human Rights all impart to people the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. The idea that people have a human right to pursue information that affects their daily lives is, therefore, deeply ingrained in international society.Without access to information, our ability to freely speak and express ourselves is limited. To be t is also important to effectively monitor and hold government to account, and to enter into informed dialogue about decisions which affect their lives, including on topics such as health, employment, the environment and education.

Access to information helps us to participate in public life

In a democratic state, if people are going to make decisions, influence the government through openly expressing their public opinion, discuss important political issues, it’s best if they’re well-informed. Without access to information, and knowledge of the society they live in, this can be difficult – there can be no informed discussion of a range of available options, no voting in accordance with one’s best interests and beliefs, no meaningful public policy discussions, and no informed political debate.

Access to information is important for holding our elected leaders to account

Without access to information, citizens are unable to hold their government accountable. Access to information such as annual reports or policy and legislative reviews allows for the monitoring of government performance. As the government demonstrates its accountability, trust in the government grows, creating a healthy relationship between the government and its citizens.If people do not know what their government is doing, and the government lacks transparency, this can harm the good functioning of a state. In an opaque society where people cannot find out about their government’s actions, rumour corruption and conspiracies can become common, damaging economic activity, deterring local and foreign investors and scaring off foreign aid providers. This can make it very difficult for people to escape poverty.

Access to information supports local and national development

The right to access information is a powerful tool for development. Disadvantaged and socially marginalised groups can take advantage of public and government information to become involved in the development of initiatives that can help look after them.

At the same time, an inability to access information can be very harmful. Without it, people’s development is blocked by their inability to learn about the policies that affect them, or the decisions that are taken on their behalf, seriously constraining their freedom. This can be a matter of health – the wellbeing of a society depends on access to information and statistics on clean water, sanitation, and access to vaccinations – or even life or death. The Indian Nobel-winning economist, Amartya Sen, has suggested that a lack of access to information can lead to confusion an inefficiencies in government that can worsen serious cases of deprivation, and even lead to famines..

Access to information helps us have control over our personal lives

Access to information laws also serve a number of important social goals. The right to access one’s personal information, for example, is part of respect for basic human dignity, but it can also be useful to effective personal decision-making. Access to medical records, for example, can help individuals make decisions about treatment; access to financial records can support in financial planning, while access to educational records can help a person demonstrate their qualifications. Allowing people access to their own data can have a significant, mundane, everyday effect.

Access to information is good for business, and good for our economy

Access to information doesn’t just help people – it can help make businesses more effective, too. Public bodies hold a vast amount of economic data and information of all kinds, which can often be be very useful for enterprises. In many countries with ATI laws, companies and commercial requesters issue more requests than any other group. As such, states can also benefit from ATI laws because of the increases in the productivity and efficiency of businesses that they bring – a benefit that often helps to allay some governments’ concerns about the cost of implementing such legislation.

The Right of ATI: The Global History
The history of Access to Information as an idea goes back a very long way. The first law to explicitly give it to people as a right was in Sweden, over 240 years ago, with the 1766 Freedom of the Press Act. Most other country’s ATI or FOI laws have been drafted since 1990, but freedom of information was .recognised as an international fundamental right by the United Nations General Assembly on 14th December 1946. The Assembly, in Resolution 59 (1), declared that that: “Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right […] the touchstone of all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated”. In 1948, the right to freedom of information was also included in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has since been reasserted in a number of international legal documents, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the 2004 Charter of Human Rights promulgated by the Arab League.Some of the earlier Freedom of Information or Access to Information laws, such as those of Sweden, Finland, Norway, France, the Netherlands and the United States (each adopted before 1980), focused most closely on establishing a right of official documents or records (rather than information more broadly) and codified administrative procedures, rather than information release procedures related to executive, legislative or judicial bodies.The history of Access to Information in the MENA region is more recent, with Jordan being the first country to adopt such a law in the region. Unusually compared to other countries, ATI in Jordan began with a government-driven initiative, rather than one motivated by civil society. In the 1990 National Charter, the Jordanian government declared that‘… access to information must be viewed as a right of every citizen … it is a right enshrined in the Constitution and should under no circumstances be abridged or violated … Citizens must have access to facts and information from legitimate transmission and publication sources within Jordan and abroad. Censorship of classified material should not prevent the citizens from exercising this right.’ This led to the passing of a draft law in 2006, with the full law coming into effect in 2007. Today, Jordan is one of 2 Arab states (Yemen being the second) to have an Access to Information Law.Once laws are in place, many states have found it useful to build upon the lessons that they have learned, and further develop ATI frameworks. In Bosnia, for example, lawmakers broadened the scope of the laws, in order to encompass all branches of government and all bodies performing public functions. In Slovakia, ATI laws were expanded to cover organisations that had been provided with public funds. As well as widening the scope of the law, access to information has also enhanced to become more responsive, with the legally stipulated timeframes for responses to information requests being gradually made shorter: one month (France) to two weeks (the Netherlands) to five days (Estonia).

The global history of Access to Information, then, is one that’s both very old, and incredibly new, and continues to develop in the present day. ATI frameworks all over the world continue to change, develop, expand, and improve, creating an enormous changes in how governments are accountable, and how they relate to their citizens. All those involved in facilitating Access to Information around the world are in the process of writing history.

The Right of ATI: The Global Concept
The right to access public information is perhaps best understood as the fundamental human and civil right of every person to know: to have access to the information he or she needs to make free choices and to live an autonomous life.Its practical application underpins two distinctive principles of a democratic system of government: the publicity of acts and the transparency of public administration. Information is therefore a tool of democratic control over State institutions, which is itself linked to the concept of participatory democracy and respect for fundamental rights.The right to information does not exist in isolation. On the one hand, the right to information can be understood as a member of a larger group of civil and political rights – a component part of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which requires governments to refrain from interfering with the free flow of information and ideas. On the other, the right to information is also intricately related to and necessary for the protection of all other human rights – a system for monitoring and assessing how well the state is keeping up to its obligations to its people.Over time, and implementation in a wide range of states, the political understanding of the right has developed to encompass a set of concrete and immediate obligation on the part of governments to provide access to information, as well as to refrain from interfering with communication of information necessary to a citizen’s ability to make autonomous choices.

The right to access official information is one of the cornerstones of representative democracy. In a representative system of government, the representatives should respond to the people who entrusted them with their representation and the authority to make decisions on public matters. It is to the individual who delegated the administration of public affairs to his or her representatives that belongs the right to information – Information that the State uses and produces with taxpayer money.

Democracy is also about accountability and good governance. The public has a right to scrutinise the actions of its leaders, and to engage in full and open debate about those actions. It must be able to assess the performance of the government and this depends on access to information about the state of the economy, social systems and other matters of public concern. This doesn’t just help ordinary people, but also improves the functioning of the state as well – one of the most effective ways of addressing poor governance, particularly in the longer term, is through informed debate, and an organisational culture of openness and truth.

Access to information laws reflect the fundamental idea that government is supposed to serve the people. It is increasingly being recognised that governments hold information not for themselves, but rather on behalf of the public. As a result, public bodies should provide access to that information. This recognition is reflected in the explosive growth in the number of ATI laws that have been adopted around the world, as well as the numerous international declarations putting their weight behind the concept.

The Right of ATI: The Jordanian Experience
In 2007, Jordan became the first state Middle Eastern to enact an Access to Information Law; unusually, this was a largely state-driven, rather than a civil society, project. In April 1990, King Hussein appointed a 60 member Royal Commission that looked to revive multi-party democracy in the country, and the 40 page National Charter that it produced included an extensive section on information and communications. Noting the extremely rapid development of information and communications technology, and its unavoidable impact on the development of democracy the charter affirmed that

‘… access to information must be viewed as a right of every citizen … it is a right enshrined in the Constitution and should under no circumstances be abridged or violated …

Citizens must have access to facts and information from legitimate transmission and publication sources within Jordan and abroad. Censorship of classified material should not prevent the citizens from exercising this right …

The circulation of news and data must be regarded as an indivisible part of the freedom of the press and information. The state must guarantee free access to information to the extent that it does not jeopardise national security or the national interest. It must enact legislation to protect journalists and other information personnel in the fulfilment of their duties and to provide them with material and psychological security.’

While the plan for Jordan’s Freedom of Information law contained a number of reservations, it nonetheless represent an extensive step forward for ATI in the country. A draft ATI law was laid out in 2006, and the full Access to Information law went through in 2007. Today, Jordan is one of only two states in the Arab world to have a functioning access to information law, and the first one to do so (the other one being Yemen; laws on these issues are currently being debated in several other MENA countries, including Tunisia, Morocco, and Lebanon).
The 2007 Access to Information Law stipulates that citizens have the right to access written, recorded, and photographed government information and basic government records, in line with the rights called for the in the National Charter. Nonetheless, there have been a number of problems that limit the effectiveness of the right of access to information.

To begin with, many state laws conflict with the ATI standard set out in 2007, limiting people’s rights to get information in practice. These include the 1998 Jordan Press Association Law, the 1960 penal code, the 1992 Defense Law, the 1959 Contempt of Court Law, the 1971 Protection of State Secrets and Classified Documents Law, the 2006 Anti-Corruption Law and 2006 Financial Disclosure Law. All of these can be used to block people’s access to information, and it’s not immediately obvious how these interact with the ATI law on a legal basis. There have been some positive steps on this, including the Amended Press and Publications Law No. 8 of 1998, which expands traditional notions of the freedom of the press to include “the right to access information, news and statistics of interest to the citizens from various sources”, and requires public authorities to provide journalists with information regarding their programs, projects, and plans.

Infrastructural issues also represent a significant obstacle to the implementation of the ATI law. The Information Council and National Library, who are responsible for implementing the ATI framework, were reportedly not allocated extra budgetary resources to carry out this role, and lack the power to compel public agencies to release data; in addition, different departments often seem to use different approaches to the classification, thus leading to a lack of consistency between departments, and difficulty with communications between different departments (which, according to anecdotal evidence, are not particularly streamlined).

In one case, during a journalism training exercise in 2012, a set of trainees visiting the Ministry of Health found that there were no ATI request forms in the building, and few of the officials there were even aware of the law’s existence. In September 2012, similarly, the Jordan Media Monitor attempted to find information about 2006 draft law mentioned above. The results of this search highlighted the fact that each individual government department was often unaware of what information was being held where, and whether or not it had been transferred to other departments. Not only does this suggest that information sharing and organisational systems between departments were poor, but it also suggested that even the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology was unable to efficiently source information about its own affairs without considerable troubles and obstacles.

This, combined with general issues of organisational culture and information sharing, means that it is often difficult to effectively take advantage of the Access to Information laws. There is, nonetheless, an extensive grounding in Jordanian law for the effective use of ATI law for positive ends; numerous journalists, activists, and citizens have used it in order to gain information about their society, and used it for positive ends.

How to Access Information in Jordan
According to the 2007 law, a Jordanian citizen may request information from a relevant official department. In this case, a ‘department’ should be regarded as the relevant Ministry, Department, Commission, any other official public institution, or a private company that manages a public utility. Look around; this covers a wide range of bodies, so it’s worth keeping an open mind about what organisations you send a request to.A Jordanian citizen can submit a request for information about a topic in which he or she has a valid, or legitimate, interest. Unfortunately, the burden of proving a legitimate interest falls on to the applicant, and so whilst he or she may have a valid reason for his request, it may be that the relevant officials considers otherwise.Concerned citizens and organisations should submit their request to the relevant official department (Ministry, Department, Commission, any other official public institution, or a private company that manages a public utility) in writing. Once the applicant has submitted a request for information, the relevant department should contact him or her within 30 days. It is possible that the request will be rejected; in this case, or in the event that the applicant did not receive a response in the 30 day period, of the applicant feels the information provided was inadequate, a complaint may be filed against the Official through the Information Commissioner/ Director General of Department of the National Library.If you, or your organisation, would like to submit a request for information, please visit the FAQ section for full details of the submission process and requirements.