FOI in the era of the Coronavirus – RESOURCES
Collected by Stanley Tromp, Vancouver journalist. Author of “Fallen Behind: Canada’s Access to Information
Act in the World Context” (2nd ed., 2020) http://www3.telus.net/index100/foi
As of April 28, 2020
* UPDATE – The United Nations World Data Forum (UNWDF) team will hold a webinar on “DATA IN THE FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19 – WHAT DO WE LEARN?” on Wednesday, 29 April 2020 at 10:30 am (EDT).
* NEWEST – From FOIANet – “The civil society members of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee have drafted a statement on protecting open government and democracy during the covid-19 pandemic. It is directed at governments primarily, with recommendations also for inter-governmental organisations and doors. The letter is open for any civil society representatives to sign. I encourage you to join! There is a link for signing at the bottom of the letter.” – Helen Darbishire, executive director, Access Info Europe.
See letter in English here: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/news/statement-on-threats-to-democracy-and-open-government-due-to-covid-19/ (Also in French here and in Spanish here.)
* Join Special Rapporteurs for Online Launch of Joint Declaration – April 25, 2020 – The special international mandates (special rapporteurs) on freedom of expression will launch their 2020 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Elections in the Digital Age at 09:00 EST. on April 30. Join them for this online event by registering here (login information will be provided following registration). For further information, please contact: Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy, email@example.com +1 902 431 3688, www.law-democracy.org
 COVID-19 Update: Tracking Changes to Right to Information Laws. April 2, 2020.
The Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy has added a page to the RTI Rating (containing information about national right to information laws) which tracks the changes that have been made to right to information laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (https://www.rti-rating.org/covid-19-tracker/). The aim is to provide a central repository of comparative information on this issue.
This page contains a compilation of legal measures which temporarily alter or even suspend right to information (RTI) obligations due to COVID-19. The first part contains an alphabetic list of any countries which have adopted formal measures, along with a short description of those measures…. The second part contains other relevant information, such as formal measures that have been proposed or are under discussion or reports of such measures that we have been unable to confirm… A third part tracks international responses and statements.
At the sub-national level in Canada, some provinces have altered RTI obligations. New Brunswick’s Ombudsman has ceased processing complaints and suspended deadlines indefinitely. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia has granted permission to public bodies to extend the time to process requests for requests received between 1 March 2020 and 30 April 2020. This extension is limited to 30 days additional to prior deadlines. Alberta used the Public Health Act to supersede the FOIP act and extend the time for processing requests to 90 days from 30 days.
 Canada’s Information Commissioner’s statement on the Coronavirus – April 2, 2020.
“Many public servants are working from home, and occasionally, using other private communications channels such as personal telephone or computer….. are minutes of meetings —even those taking place by teleconference or video conference—continuing to be taken and kept? Are all relevant records —such as decisions documented in a string of texts between co-workers—ultimately finding their way into government repositories? Do employees have a clear understanding of what constitutes “a record of business value” and that this record must be preserved for future access?”
 Freedom-of-information requests shunted to sidelines during virus crisis. By Jim Bronskill, Canadian Press. March 26, 2020.
“As government agencies across Canada focus strained resources on protecting people from COVID-19, efforts to respond to freedom-of-information requests from the public are slowing or even stopping altogether. At least three large federal departments recently issued notices advising requesters their applications for information would be placed on hold due to COVID-19…. Many public servants are working from home, making it difficult to retrieve and process records.
“The office of Ontario’s information commissioner says the expectation to comply with the province’s access law remains in effect, but adds it understands that many organizations will be unable to meet the 30-day response requirement. British Columbia’s information commissioner has granted public agencies the right to tack an additional 30 days onto the time ordinarily needed for processing of provincial requests received from March 1 through the end of April….”
 Ken Rubin: During COVID-19, government transparency takes a beating. Ottawa Citizen. April 24, 2020.
“Secrecy and autocratic, erratic government should not become the new normal during or after the COVID-19 crisis…. Some people want only pandemic health records given priority for public access, while others say we need to do better. For instance, with so many government bailout programs recently announced, they want data released on the special interest lobbying for subsidies that are decided on behind closed doors.
“In Canada, where officials have a broad array of exemptions to choose from when asked for information, and with cabinet records excluded, not much about public health and the environment has been fully released for some time. That routine secrecy includes data about such topics as toxic public and private sites and the respiratory problems of children due to air pollution…. And afterwards, we need a radical transformation of how the government handles the public information we are all entitled to.”
See also – COVID-19 invades and compromises our privacy, by Ken Rubin Hill Times, April 20, 2020. https://www.hilltimes.com/2020/04/20/covid-19-invades-and-compromises-our-privacy/243779
 CBC story on New Brunswick and FOI – By Karissa Donkin, March 31, 2020
“No two provinces are the same when it comes to reporting on cases of COVID-19…. During a public health crisis, sharing ‘thorough and comprehensive information to the public’ is more important than ever, according to Michael Karanicolas, president of the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia.”
 Good article on the impacts of the COVID-19 on the Canadian FOI system – The Lost Year of the FOI. By Steph Wechsler, J-Source. April 13, 2020
“Access to information is one of the many democratic functions taking a hit in the wake of a pandemic – and that’s really bad news as emergency measures are executed at a rapid pace to stem the crisis. While some considerations are understandable, given the universal need to grapple with new conditions and a relentless demand for information, FOI and press freedom experts warn against being too quick to acquiesce when responding to hold notices.
“’I think 2020 will be the lost year of FOI in Canada,” access to information specialist Dean Beeby, who sounded the alarm in the early weeks of the pandemic, says in an email. “Overwhelmed FOI units will be months in recovery. And responses to substantial FOI requests related to the COVID-19 crisis are likely a year away.’”
 Access-to-information systems across Canada slowed by COVID-19. Some agencies have stopped accepting requests, but advocates say accountability is more important than ever. By Karissa Donkin. CBC News. April 3, 2020.
“An international human rights organization is calling on all levels of government in Canada to continue answering access to information requests — and prioritize ones that relate to government accountability. As governments across the country move to offer essential services only due to COVID-19, some are warning of delays in processing access to information requests, while others have stopped accepting new requests entirely.”
“’We’ve got, on the one hand, this incredible need for accountability and on the other hand, the institutions of accountability are operating well below their normal levels,” Toby Mendel, executive director of the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy, said in an interview. “So, it’s a cocktail for lack of accountability and at this time, the importance of access to information is much, much greater than ever.’”
“Organizations that already struggled to respond to access to information requests will likely make access to information “an even lower priority” during a pandemic, according to Jason Woywada, executive director of the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association….. But it also could push the country’s access to information systems to modernize.”
THE UNITED STATES
 CLD summary – Several resources are tracking the FOIA policies adopted by various federal agencies during the pandemic, including this spreadsheet from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and this COVID-19 Resource page from the National Freedom of Information Coalition. The Congressional Research Service also produced a report on FOIA processing changes due to COVID-19 on 27 March 2020.
Additional information about actions taken by various states can be found on this spreadsheet compiled by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vTyXoIXl2whyI9akO7WT5tL9dzUdwOfFJZC9K-DHu1C7JhmD-R5QM4EMe2k9gmBrY5c3-P08qhs8ijW/pubhtml#
 Very fine resource for American applicants – Fighting for public records during the coronavirus crisis. From the Investigative Reports and Editors (IRE).
Jason Leopold, Buzzfeed News; Adam Marshall & Gunita Singh, RCFP – Webinar recorded April 1, 2020
Link to this tipsheet: bit.ly/corona-records-webinar-2020
Link to webinar recording: bit.ly/corona-records-webinar-2020-recording
“Don’t stop filing records requests. There is a huge need for transparency about how the government is responding to the pandemic, and public agencies are still under an obligation to follow the law. Eventually, they’ll get to your request. Keep that pipeline full! / See if you can get the records without a formal request. / Narrow your requests to be as targeted as possible, especially if you’re requesting records from an agency that doesn’t normally get lots of requests (e.g., the CDC).”
 The Congressional Research Service has published a useful guide – ‘Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Processing Changes Due to COVID-19’ – March 27, 2020, 11 pgs. Notes on ‘expedited’ process.
“This In Brief report provides an overview of the typical FOIA request process and usual conditions for requesting expedited processing of a request. The report then provides analysis of the impact of agency procedures in response to the pandemic on government information availability, and concludes with a survey of announced agency processing alterations.”
 Transparency in government is essential during the coronavirus – Much of our government is becoming shrouded in secrecy despite how often top officials appear on our screens with updates. By Justin Silverman, Boston Globe, editorial. March 20, 2020
“Much of our government is becoming shrouded in secrecy despite how often top officials appear on our screens with updates. Underneath the highest levels of leadership, the Globe recently reported, our government is receding from view, hidden by remote meetings and shuttered offices. Ironically, the reduction of public oversight comes during Sunshine Week, an annual and national celebration of transparency that began on March 15. None of this bodes well for government’s most important tool in its fight against the coronavirus: public trust.
“Meanwhile, federal agencies are beginning to use the pandemic as a reason to shut down Freedom of Information Act requests, a development that will place a “significant limit on how Americans can learn about the workings of their government,” according to BuzzFeed News….. That secrecy will probably lead to bad decisions by governments at every level. But perhaps worse, it could also have us doubting the good ones.
 Column by David Cullier for TheConversation.com (April 3, 2020) on how virus impacts USA FOIA.
“Since the spread of coronavirus accelerated in recent weeks, local, state and federal officials throughout the United States have locked down information from the public….. Throughout the country, journalists are barred from talking to staff at public hospitals and locations serving the sick. And with administrators limiting access to the hospital itself, journalists are unable to tell the public what is happening. Precautions can be taken to protect the health of everyone concerned and protect the privacy of patients….. And this is just in the United States. The Philippines threatens journalists with prison time for spreading false news about the virus, and the Committee to Protect Journalists is tracking the arrests of reporters in Venezuela, Niger, India and elsewhere, regarding coronavirus coverage.”
 Don’t let open government become another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. Column by Dean Ridings, CEO at America’s Newspapers. April 22, 2020.
“Now many government entities in states across the country are using the COVID-19 public health crisis as an all-purpose excuse to tighten access or even close meetings that should be open to all, and dragging their feet or simply ignoring requests for records that belong to the public…. A USA Today Network investigation by reporter Jessica Priest found 35 states have at least temporarily altered their open government laws because of the coronavirus crisis…. These are not media “gotcha” fishing expeditions, but news organizations holding government accountable on behalf of their communities.”
 Public Access to Information Suffers Under Coronavirus. By Richard Salame and Nina Zweig. Columbia Journalism Review. March 25, 2020
“While some agencies face tricky logistical challenges because of how records are kept, others have added new barriers that don’t seem directly related to the pandemic…. The FBI has stopped processing electronic records requests, reported BuzzFeed News; now, the bureau requires that requests be sent via postal mail. The State Department has gone further, reporter Jason Leopold found, suspending FOIA operations entirely until further notice.
“Part of the slowdown is the shift by many agencies to a work-from-home model, in order to promote social distancing. Some materials may not be accessible from public records officers’ homes. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has called on agencies to “provide their employees and contractors the necessary tools and resources to continue processing records requests” remotely. The Reporters Committee is crowdsourcing a database of impacts across the country, with updates from 22 agencies in 14 states thus far.” RELATED: COVID-19 is spawning a global press-freedom crackdown
 Journal of Civic Information, article by F. LaMonte on virus and FOIA. April 7, 2020
“Conclusion – At a time when prompt access to accurate information could literally mean the difference between life and death, the laws mandating disclosure of information to the public are being relaxed in the name of government efficiency, while those mandating secrecy are being applied rigidly (and at times, inaccurately over-applied). This isn’t just a problem for journalists and researchers.
“As Harvard University health-law professor I. Glenn Cohen told The New York Times: ‘Public health depends a lot on public trust. If the public feels as though they are being misled or misinformed their willingness to make sacrifices – in this case social distancing – is reduced.’ Perhaps the lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic – and it will be a relief to speak of the pandemic in the past tense – will be a generational recommitment to restore custody of critical health-and-safety information to its rightful public owners.”
 Reporters barred. Records delayed. How coronavirus shrouded local government in secrecy. By Jessica Priest, USA Today Network. April 8, 2020
“Pennsylvania is one of 35 states to temporarily alter open government laws to curb the spread of coronavirus, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of government press releases, newspaper articles and information collected by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the National Governors Association…. Elsewhere in the country, journalists worry that public officials are using social distancing as an excuse to operate in secret or shun them from meetings as punishment for prior critical coverage. Journalists also have been barred from meetings about the COVID-19 response.
“Open government advocates say that, in some cases, the new emphasis on using technology to broadcast public meetings could improve transparency. But [they] also worry that state legislatures might see the pandemic as an opportunity to permanently increase the discretion of governmental bodies on decisions of openness during an emergency.”
 Open Government in a WFH World. By Rachael Jones. The Brechner Center. April 3, 2020
“The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is forcing local, state, and federal government agencies to make critical public-health decisions on a hurry-up schedule that is coming into tension with the public’s legal right to have advance notice and an opportunity to participate. The need for public information is at an all-time high.
“However, it is often in these stressful moments that government agencies tend to bear down and tighten the reins: As the virus spreads, the potential for extreme government action increases. Notably, some state leaders have come out strongly in favor of the public’s right to complete and timely information about the epidemic, even under adverse and unforeseen conditions.”
 Government transparency is also falling victim to the coronavirus pandemic. By William Bender and Jeremy Roebuck. Philadelphia Inquirer, March 25, 2020
“’Agencies need to prioritize their efforts so the main focus is on the coronavirus. Everyone gets that,” said Erik Arneson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. “But you can’t do that stuff in secret and expect the public to have any confidence in your actions.… You don’t want people to be suspicious in times like this. If you can eliminate suspicion, that’s a good thing.”
“Wide swaths of the federal government have either temporarily shut down their offices designated to handle Freedom of Information Act requests, or limited their operations in confusing — and sometimes contradictory — ways. The FBI, for example, said last week it would no longer accept electronically submitted requests for public records…. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, said it was suspending acceptance of any physically submitted FOIA requests and directed people to send them in only online.”
 Access to public information restricted as schools move online. By Cameron Boatner. Student Press Law Center. March 24, 2010
“Daniel Bevarly, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said the coronavirus isn’t a legally acceptable reason for universities to withhold public information from student journalists. Bevarly gave a few suggestions for struggling public records officers: [a] Create an email service to release any important information ahead of time, [b] Make sure to always use public email addresses and company phones for public information-related matters,
Designate a public records custodian in each department to expedite the release of records…. Bevarly also said that the current challenges records officers are experiencing highlight the importance of having records easily accessible by digitizing them and using an online records request portal.
“Sommer Ingram Dean, staff attorney at the Student Press Law Center, suggested student journalists prioritize their requests in order of importance. She said it might take longer for someone to fill requests, and adding more to the queue could hurt your chances of getting what you need in a reasonable time frame. She said coronavirus-related records should be requested first, because they’re arguably the most urgent to the community. If a record holder says they don’t have access to the records because they’re working remotely, Dean said student journalists should ask whether they have access to a remote server with related documents.”
 144 Organizations Sign Statement on Government Coronavirus Emergency Transparency. National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC). April 1, 2020
Transparency-minded organizations urge state, local and tribal governments across the United States “to recommit to, and not retrench from, their duty to include the public in the policy-making process, including policies relating to COVID-19 as well as the routine ongoing functions of governance.”
“144 American organizations have signed a statement to state, tribal and local public institutions voicing concerns about transparency and access to meetings and records as these institutions respond to the Coronavirus emergency and continue their administrative deliberations. Organizations representing diverse constituencies and political ideologies have joined together to advise these governing bodies that real time public engagement in government proceedings and unfettered access to information must not be sacrificed to streamline deliberations and decision making.”
 State Open Government Coalitions, with news and advice on COVID-19 and FOI.
* New England First Amendment Coalition (excellent) – https://nefac.org/how-nefac-is-helping-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/
* Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition – https://coloradofoic.org/
* Florida First Amendment Foundation – Open Government in the Age of COVID-19 – https://myemail.constantcontact.com/ICYMI–Your-FAF-March-Newsletter.html?soid=1110193229252&aid=-Broj2BKHTc
* Freedom of Information Coalition Oklahoma – https://www.foioklahoma.org/covid19
* Indiana Coalition for Open Government – https://indianacog.org/icog-news/covid-19-data-references-resources/
* Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas – https://foift.org/2020/03/26/open-government-awareness-during-coronavirus-emergency/
* Virginia Coalition for Open Government https://www.opengovva.org/sunshine-report-april-2020
THE UNITED KINGDOM
 CLD summary – The Information Commissioner’s Office, on 15 April 2020, released a statement describing the ICO’s regulatory approach during the public health emergency. It states that the ICO will continue to take new RTI complaints and will take a “pragmatic” approach to resolving complaints which will minimise engagement with public authorities and be governed by the authorities themselves in terms of their ability to respond to the ICO’s requests. The ICO also recognises that there may be “extreme circumstances” where public authorities must temporarily reduce or suspend elements of RTI. The statement encourages authorities to proactively publish information and emphasises the need for proper record keeping.
 British FOI and the pandemic – https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/icos-blog-on-its-information-rights-work/ AND https://www.cfoi.org.uk/2020/04/foi-and-the-pandemic/
Information Commissioner – “The ICO recognises the unprecedented challenges all are facing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In particular we understand that resources, whether they are finances or people, may be diverted away from usual compliance or information rights work. Whilst we can’t extend statutory timescales, we will not be penalising public authorities for prioritising other areas or adapting their usual approach during this extraordinary period.”
Campaign for FOI – “What does the ICO’s ‘no penalisation’ announcement mean for UK authorities? ICO enforcement is already extremely low key. The only sanction authorities have faced, even if they took six, nine or twelve months to respond to a request, was an eventual decision notice recording a time limit breach. Even if the failing was repeated again and again the outcome was just more decision notices describing more breaches. There might be behind the scenes discussions with, say, permanent secretaries of poorly performing government departments, but these were kept private.”
 Scotland FOI in Coronavirus era, and Scotland FOI Briefing of April 7, 2020
CFoIS group – “The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament which will have draconian and far reaching implications on the exercise of FoI rights just when people really need to hold public bodies to account for decisions made…..Significantly the UK Bill resisted any such restrictions on FoI citing the reasoned arguments of the UK Information Commissioner who provided reassurance and boundaries on compliance by stating that ‘organisations will not be penalised during this extraordinary period.’ However, the Scottish Government forged ahead with its draconian measures throughout the one day review process today at Holyrood.”
 Great resource for FOI applicants and journalists – Tips on Making FOIA Requests About COVID-19. By Toby McIntosh, Global Investigative Journalism Network. April 8, 2020. For global, national and local requests. (See links.)
“Journalists already are actively using freedom of information (FOI) laws to understand the COVID-19 pandemic and how their governments have responded. This GIJN resource makes suggestions on: How to file requests, Who to Ask, What to ask for…. The answers to many important questions about COVID-19 likely won’t arrive in time through FOI channels, but eventually they will inform many articles.
“Government resistance to providing information during this pandemic already exists in some places. (See this previous GIJN report.) And further resistance to disclosure can be expected. As American media observer Jay Rosen tweeted: “The battle to prevent Americans from understanding what he [President Trump] did to minimize the danger in January to March is going to be one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in modern US history.”
 International Conference of Information Commissioners: The ICIC has published a statement on the right to information in the context of the pandemic, at – https://www.informationcommissioners.org/covid-19
The announcement about the statement is at – https://www.informationcommissioners.org/icic-access-to-information-in-the-context-of-global-pandemic-covid-19
“Public bodies must also recognise the value of clear and transparent communication, and of good record-keeping, in what will be a much analysed period of history. As an international network, the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC) supports a flexible approach that takes into account the compelling public interest in the current health emergency, while safeguarding the values of the right to access information. We ask governments to support this vision.”
 Council of Europe – Statement on FOI. April 7, 2020
“The freedom of expression, including free and timely flow of information, is a critical factor for the ability of the media to report on issues related to the pandemic. Media and professional journalists, in particular public broadcasters, have a key role and special responsibility for providing timely, accurate and reliable information to the public, but also for preventing panic and fostering people’s co-operation….
“At the same time, official communications cannot be the only information channel about the pandemic. This would lead to censorship and suppression of legitimate concerns. Journalists, media, medical professionals, civil society activists and public at large must be able to criticise the authorities and scrutinise their response to the crisis…. The pandemic should not be used to silence whistle-blowers or political opponents.”
 The record above also references the 2007 Council of Europe Guidelines on RTI in times of crisis.
“9. Convinced not only that media coverage can be crucial in times of crisis by providing accurate, timely and comprehensive information, but also that media professionals can make a positive contribution to the prevention or resolution of certain crisis situations by adhering to the highest professional standards and by fostering a culture of tolerance and understanding between different groups in society…..”
 Governments Delay Access to Information Due to COVID-19. By Toby McIntosh, Investigative Journalism Network. March 31, 2020 (with many good links).
This article includes information on Australia, Brazil, Canada, El Salvador, India, Italy, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand, Romania, Serbia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
“Governments around the world, some of which have sent workers home, are announcing interruptions in responding to requests. Journalists and others requesting information are being told to expect delays in more than a dozen countries, but press freedom advocates warn that countries are taking big steps backward just when the free flow of information is most needed.
“Perhaps the most pro-transparency response came in New Zealand, where the ombudsman — which handles complaints about state agencies — cautioned that circumstances would be challenging and urged cooperation, and suggested the prioritization of requests concerning public health. Complementing this message, Minister of Justice Andrew Little tweeted, ‘The Official Information Act remains important for holding power to account during this extraordinary time.’ That approach was the exception.”
 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: The IACHR published Resolution 1/2020 on the pandemic and human rights in the Americas, April 10, 2020
So far, only in Spanish – https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/decisiones/pdf/Resolucion-1-20-es.pdf
“It calls, at paragraph 32, for protection of the right to access information and states that RTI should not be subject to general limitations on security or public order grounds. Priority should be given to information requests related to the public health emergency.
“For information not relating to the pandemic, if deadlines are postponed, States must justify refusals to provide information, establish time frames for complying with RTI obligations and permit appeals. There should also be proactive disclosure of information about the impacts of the pandemic and emergency measures taken, in a format that is open and accessible to vulnerable persons, and disaggregated according to international practices.”
 Right to information: A matter of life and death during the COVID-19 crisis. By Adam Foldes, Legal Advisor, Transparency International, Berlin. April 2, 2020.
“There is some chance that national crises will result in laws allowing for more transparency. There will be court cases developing the right to information jurisprudence, like Case of Guerra and Others v. Italy. Media and the public will be more aware of state censorship, lack of information, alternative (non-state) sources of information, importance of free media and role of whistleblowers.
“In some countries secretive and eventually non-democratic governments will relent to public pressure for more timely and better quality information and it gives a chance for the broader public, media and civil society to maintain this openness after the crisis.”
 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights:
In a 24 March 2020 press release on a human rights based response to COVID-19, the Commission “urges the legal necessity” for States to ensure access to information and notes that in times of public health emergency, the public has a right “to receive factual, regular, intelligible and science-based information on the threat COVID19 poses” as well as measures taken to respond to the virus.
 Ireland. FOI requests under threat during coronavirus crisis. By Craig Hughes, Irish News. April 3, 2020
“Freedom of information requests are under threat, with some public bodies seeking them to be withdrawn and others suspending the use of the Freedom of Information Act.…. Fred Logue, information solicitor specialising in information law, said that new laws were required to suspend the FOI Act and that public bodies couldn’t simply stop processing requests. He said: ‘We are in crisis, there are a load of decisions being taken in a rush, it’s important that that remains scrutinisable in principle.’”
 Guidelines on the Proactive Publication of Information by Governments during the Covid-19 Crisis and on Covid-19 Related Public Procurement. The Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (Georgia). April 6, 2020.
“In times of a global health crisis of this kind, getting accurate information about government activities, relevant legal acts, social services, public spending on various government efforts to respond to existing challenges and new initiatives to support socially vulnerable groups becomes ever more important.
“Ensuring the openness and transparency of the procurement process is particularly important nowadays when a considerable financial sources (state budgets, special funds, international aid and private donations) are spent on conducting urgent procurements aimed at fighting against the pandemic…. The concern is based on previous examples of corrupt practices in the process of medical procurement such as the ones linked with the Ebola crisis. It is particularly important for low-income countries since they are most vulnerable to corruption risks.”
 FOI in India today. Two articles by Engineer Irfan, on the need for FOI and proactive release in Kashmir.
A Protest by The Kashmir Press Club, April 4, 2020 – https://menafn.com/1099967200/Kashmir-Press-Club-Flays-Gag-Order-on-Doctors-Dealing-with-Pandemic
“Highlighting a recent gag order issued by Director Health Services, Kashmir ordering doctors and paramedics not to share information with media about the ongoing crisis, the management in its statement to current news service said stopping information flow amid the unprecedented situation is highly condemnable. It said that putting out information during pandemic through authentic print and electronic media is of vital importance as it helps to stop flow of unverified information and rumours….. It also condemns a recent incident wherein a reporter in Kulgam Umaisar Gul was thrashed by the security personnel when he was returning from Qazigund hospital in south Kashmir on March 30, 2020.”
 Argentina. The Argentine Information Commissioner has issued a resolution lifting or cancelling, in relation to access to information and privacy, the general suspension of administrative deadlines which is in the emergency decrees passed by the government. April 14, 2020
https://www.boletinoficial.gob.ar/detalleAviso/primera/227825/20200415 (Use Google Translate for English).
“That its exercise is essential for citizen control of public acts and the evaluation of the management of the State; at the same time that, in the face of an emergency and health crisis as a result of the pandemic generated by COVID 19, access to public information becomes essential to know the Administration’s actions and avoid arbitrariness in public decision-making.
“That is reinforced by the fact that the special rapporteur of the UNITED NATIONS ORGANIZATION on freedom of expression and other special rapporteurs issued a statement on March 19, 2020, urging the disclosure of information, internet access and protection of journalists, They argued: ‘It is essential that governments provide truthful information about the nature of the threat posed by the coronavirus….’”
 Ukraine. The regional network of the Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights with the support of UNDP Ukraine performed a check on how local authorities are publishing information about protective measures against COVID-19 and how they reply to the requests for information.
The report on the results of the monitoring is available now only in Ukrainian, however, the infographic is available also in English. April 2020.
“The motion to provide information urgently (within 48 hours from the date of receipt of the request) was included in the informational request for that monitoring, this possibility is provided by the Ukrainian legislation. The monitors also assessed the proper work of official electronic mailboxes for information requests and the level of disclosure the information about protective measures against COVID-19 on official websites.”
 Now more than ever: Transparency and Whistleblower Protection. Madrid, 6 April 2020 – Access Info Europe today joined leading transparency and anti-orruption organisations in calling on all public authorities to ensure and strengthen whistleblower protection during the state of emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“In an open letter, the signatories highlight the need for transparency so that citizens can scrutinise governments and businesses, and point to examples wrongdoing that have already been exposed in areas including health system management and public procurement. This is particular the case given that, in the current crisis, decision making is bypassing normal parliamentary and citizen oversight processes and where, in some countries, freedom of the press and freedom of information have been limited.
“The open letter is here – https://www.access-info.org/blog/2020/04/06/now-more-than-ever-whistleblower-protection/ (“Parliaments and democratic assemblies are being suspended in many countries. The use of extraordinary powers by governments without proper public oversight and transparency creates a tangible risk of overreach and potential misuse.”)
 Italy’s new FOI rules – http://www.funzionepubblica.gov.it/articolo/dipartimento/27-03-2020/comunicato
Use Google translate for English
 A rare, early example of a COVID-19 story produced by the FOI process. From Australia. (Hopefully, may there be many more……?)
Treasury underestimated coronavirus like the rest of us, FOI documents show. By Gareth Hutchens. April 6, 2020
“Six weeks ago, Treasury officials were estimating the coronavirus outbreak was only going to dent Australia’s economic growth in the first three months of this year before the economy rebounded…. But since then, a global pandemic has been declared, the Morrison Government has announced the largest peacetime stimulus packages in Australia’s history, the Reserve Bank has stepped in to stop the financial system collapsing, and economists have warned of an unemployment rate jumping above 10 per cent. Documents obtained under freedom of information by ABC News show how quickly the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed Australian policymaking in recent weeks.”