Information Disclosure: Access to Information, the Availability of Information and the system to support it all.

open-data1By Nanda Sihombing

There was an international forum, the IGF (Internet Governance Forum), held in Bali, Indonesia just last week. The question that pops-up in most people’s minds often can be ‘is our privacy being threatened?’. But, people should first take a step back and think about the system itself.

Why is there such a massive effort in online service systems and e-everything; e-procurement, e-budget, e-registration, e-government? It’s fair for the government to decide that they want to join the global movement in online service delivery. Almost every Indonesian, 93% of the total population,[1] is literate, so the society is ready to be fundamentally based in written communication. The next consideration should be whether or not the online system that the government’s been focusing on is appropriate for all regions in Indonesia and whether or not the community can realistically access it.

More than 80% of internet coverage is concentrated in Java, Bali, and Sumatera.[2] 21% of Indonesia has internet penetration[3] with 22,1% of the population internet users[4]. Areas with both internet coverage and a high rate of internet usage among the population would be the perfect place to start an online system[5]. The government and the community should work hand-in-hand with all stakeholders so that no sector is left behind. Meanwhile in areas that don’t yet meet this condition, the government should be pushed to eradicate illiteracy, to prepare the infrastructure, to better educate the community in using the internet and raise awareness of their privacy rights. Before an online system is in place in these areas, photocopying machines, flyers of information or any of the good-old-fashion systems remain some of the best options to ensure that our family in remote areas[6] are not left behind.

An offline interface might be another good solution for the time being. Just because they live far away from the capital, it does not mean that they deserve less of any information now, does it?

How do we ensure that the technology does not always and only mean data provision via internet? And what is the relation between technology and the Open Data initiative?[7] The Open Data initiative is itself becoming the source of an international debate over whether or not it should be part of the newly founded voluntary international initiative, the Open Government Partnership (OGP).[8]

Whilst the international OGP initiative is still trying to find agreement amongst its members in what the governance of OGP should be like, the civil society movement of freedom of information in Indonesia has already been pushing the agenda on the right to information since 2001.[9] The agenda was finally adapted by the government by passing the law of Information Disclosure with, unfortunately, significant changes. Whilst this is not the law that civil society groups wanted, we have to acknowledge the government’s effort in finally adapting and implementing the law through the establishment of the Information Commission at the national level. Civil society, though, still remains one step ahead of government in putting the effort to ensure this human right is covered.[10]

Realizing the effort and the massive needs associated with the right to information, governments around the world formed new initiatives to push further those countries who already have an FoI law, to ensure that there are accountable and transparent systems in place.[11]

What do we do then? Do we wait for the OGP to “fix” its governance and only then start getting ourselves engaged in the initiatives while we’re busy fixing what the reality is on the ground? Do we really want to justleave this OGP initiative floating around?  Or, Shall we take a more active role?, Better yet, come to an agreement in the OGP Annual Meeting in London, which is held in October 31st, that we, the society and the government, will work things out at the national level together?[12] It might not be easy nor might it be possible to accomplish in a short period of time. Yet, I think, that’s what we should do to avoid two similar issues from both sides not moving at the same direction or even worse, working at the exact opposite and becoming counter-productive. The ball is not in the air anymore, it’s in our hands and it’s our decision whether or not we want to join the play. So, shall we? Or shall we not?

[1] World Bank: World Development Report 2014

[2] Minstry of Communication and Information. Strategic Plan 2010-2014 of Ministry of Communication and Information, p.11, “distribution of Internet Service Provider is concentrated in Java (64% out of 306 ISP) and Sumatera (18%)

[3] Nielsen. The Digital Media Habits and Attitudes of Southeast Asian Consumers. October 2011.

[5] Ministry of Communication and Information, p.5 “the ability to collect, to process, and use information is something that a country must have not only to increase the economic development and to increase the country’s competitiveness, but also to  increase society’s living standard dan quality of life. In order to reach that goal, the availability of a proper information infrastructure, either the number of access, capacity, quality or the coverage, is a main requirement and must be used to its maximum capacity, not only as a mean of communication but also as an instrument which can create an opportunity in economy and social welfare.

[6] Open Government Declaration, commitment point 4, page 2, September 2011 “We recognize that equitable and affordable access to technology is a challenge, and commit to seeking increased online and secure online spaces as platforms for delivering services, while also identifying and promoting the use of alternative mechanisms for civic engagement.”

[7] G8 Open Data Charter, point 3 “today, people expect to be able to access information and services electronically when and how they want

[8] Open Government Parternship: Articles Governance, June 2012, “The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a voluntary, multi-stakeholder international initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to their citizenry to promote transparancy, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

[10] Geneva Convention by the UN – human right on right of information and Indonesian Constitution Article 28F: everyone deserves to communicate and receive information to develop his/her personal and social environment, and deserves to seek, receive, own, keep, process,and deliver information using any available platform.

[11] Open Government Declaration, September 2011. “Together, we declare our commitment to: Increase the availability of information about governmental activities.” And Open Government Partnership: Articles of Governance, Addenda, point 2 on Access to Information, June 2012, “An access to Information law that guarantees the public’s right to information and acesss to government data is essential to the spirit and practice of open government.”

[12] Open Government Declaration, commitment point 4, page 2, September 2011 “we commit to engaging civil society and the business community to identify effective practices and innovative approaches for leveraging new technologies to empower people and promote transparancy in government” and Open Government Partnership: Articles of Governance, Addenda, point 4 on Citizen Engagement, June 2012, “Open Government requires opennes to citizen participation and engagement in policymaking and governance