Freedom of Information
Freedom of Information (FoI) is a principle that allows people to access government information. It increases transparency and accountability.
Various countries around the world have freedom of information laws. The US Freedom of Information Act (1966) is, arguably, the most famous. FoI requests can be filed to access statistics, records, and documents produced or held by public authorities. This could be, for example: the reasons that have been issued by EU member states to invoke Article 29 of the Schengen Borders Code and temporarily re-introduce permanent border checks.
FoI as a method of accessing public information has been widely used by journalists for many years. Recently the scholarly community has also incorporated it as a method of data collection to challenge government secrecy. FoI requests require preparation. You need to understand the procedures, know which information is already out there and make sure to clearly formulate your request. This will help you to know exactly which data you need to request.
As the saying goes, light is the best disinfectant. However, practices of obfuscation and concealment prevail. Be prepared to handle rejections and delays. Even if your request is granted, the available data might be unreadable or not provided in a format that allows you to directly work with it. Discovering which public authorities prefer to operate in the dark is in itself an interesting research result.
Tip: Specific requests are easier to answer. Do not forget to specify the time frame in which you expect a response.
- Belcher, Oliver, and Lauren Martin. 2019. ‘The Problem of Access. Site Visits, Selective Disclosure, and Freedom of Information in Qualitative Security Research.’ In Secrecy and Methods in Security Research: A Guide to Qualitative Fieldwork, edited by Marieke De Goede, Esmé Bosma, and Polly Pallister-Wilkins, 32–47. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge.
- Greenberg, Pierce. 2015. ‘Strengthening Sociological Research through Public Records Requests’. Social Currents, December.
- Savage, Ashley, and Richard Hyde. 2014. ‘Using freedom of information requests to facilitate research’. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 17 (3): 303-17.
- Walby, Kevin, y Alex Luscombe, eds. 2020. Freedom of Information and Social Science Research Design. London : New York: Routledge.