Published: October 13, 2006 2:40 PM ET
CHICAGO For the first time ever, an international court has declared that access to government information is a human right.
Ruling in a case brought by three Chilean environmental activists, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared that a "right of general access" to government-held information is protected by Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Article 13 deals with "freedom of thought and expression."
"With respect to the facts of the present case, the court concludes that Article 13 of the Convention, which specifically establishes the rights to 'seek' and 'receive' 'information', protects the right of all persons to request access to information held by the State, with the exceptions permitted by the restrictions regime of the Convention," the court said in its ruling. "As a result, this article supports the right of persons to receive such information and the positive obligation on the State to supply it, so that the person may have access to the information or receive a reasoned response when, for ground permitted by the Convention, the State may limit access to it in the specific case."
The court further ruled that government information that isn't otherwise restricted "should be provided without a need to demonstrate a direct interest in obtaining it, or a personal interest, except in cases where there applies a legitimate restriction."
"The right to freedom of thought and of expression contemplates protection of the right of access to information under State control. ..." the court also wrote.