What is Freedom of Information and Why is it So Important?

The world today is drastically different from the world of a decade ago. As technology races ahead at breakneck speeds, how do we ensure that equality and freedom of information keep up?

What is Freedom of Information and Why is it So Important?

The world of today is drastically different from the world of a decade ago. As technology races ahead at breakneck speeds, how do we ensure that equality and freedom of information keep up?

Today (September 28) is the International Day for Universal Access to Information. Inaugurated in 2015 and first held in 2016, this day was once recognised as International Right to Know Day but was developed by civil advocacy groups across the world into its current incarnation.

Once upon a time, the visions of the future prevalent in day to day society were made up of magical flying cars, towering skyscrapers and rocket boots. The world of tomorrow showed a world of opportunities and potential.

Source: Imgur
Source: Imgur

But today’s vision of the future seems to be bleaker. Films and books that take a step ahead in time find themselves in dystopian settings, replete with smog-filled skies, technology-addicted humans and, of course, an oppressive government.

Big Brother is Watching You from 1984. Source: bustle.com
Mega-City One from Judge Dredd. Source: spikeybits.com
The Maze Runner Scorch Trials. Source: mediastinger.com

In these worlds of fictional futures, the powers that be are often unchecked, unchallenged and rife with corruption. In some versions of the future, such as Equilibrium (2002), thinking for yourself is actively suppressed by the population and punished by death.

Wanting to discover the truth is also frowned upon by the totalitarian governments of dystopian futures. Often because the truth would undermine their power in some way or another. Because as we all know, information is power.

So, if information is power, then access to information must be empowerment. Even when not in the world of science fiction futures, back to our current reality, this must still be true.

The past decade has been one of substantial technological growth. Sources of information have taken new forms and multiplied, all whilst becoming more and more global.

We all now have the ability to access a wealth of information that could once have only been dreamed of. Nearly the entirety of human discoveries, writings, creative works and contributions to our collective knowledge is available through the phone in your pocket.

Provided of course you know where to look.

And provided the information is not being blocked.

With such an important opportunity available for community and societal development it is important to remember that these opportunities should be, must be, available to all. In the world of tomorrow, the highly interconnected global ocean we have only just started dipping our toe into, a lack of equality of opportunity is a sure way of creating new groups of marginalised, excluded people.

We can see it happening today. Despite the fact we haven’t yet fully submerged ourselves into the global ocean of connectivity, just the process of entering this new world has caused rifts to grow in our societies. Rifts between young and old, rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged. The digital divide is continuously getting deeper and deeper, and that is just those who struggle to even use a computer, let alone access important information that even the most computer literate would be hard-pressed to find.

“ The purpose of International Day for Universal Access to Information is to remind governments and all stakeholders in civil society of the need to ensure truly universal access to information. ”— MS AUDREY AZOULAY DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF UNESCO

Being able to play an active role in our communities and having the knowledge and information to do so is vital for our very way of life.

We need universal access to information. We need it for the reasons discussed here and for many more.

Read the rest of Ms Audrey Azoulay’s message here: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002657/265729e.pdf

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