It is often said that Cayman is a
small place where “everyone knows your business”. While this may at times be
charming, it can also be intimidating for individuals who wish to express an
opinion or ask difficult questions. Yet, what could be more important in a
democracy than allowing the people free access to the information that is
theirs in the first place, without bias or artificial obstructions?
There are two very good reasons why
anonymity of FOI requests must be retained in Cayman, one based on legal
principles of equity and good governance, and the other derived from more
When a person requests information
from government under the provisions of the FOI Law, there is no legal obligation
for him to provide his real name. In fact, the FOI Regulations explicitly
specify that unless the request is for personal information you do not need to
give your real name.
The principle of anonymity is
consistent with the overall functionality of the FOI Law, which also provides
that an applicant need not provide a reason for his request, and that it is the
public authority which has the burden of proof to show why information should
remain closed, not the requestor who has to prove why he needs the information.
These measures were put in place to
ensure that government treats each request in an equitable and confidential
manner without the slightest possibility of bias, reprimand or retribution
towards the requestor. Underlying these provisions is the important principle
that each person is entitled to the same treatment when asking government for
information, and that it should not matter who you are, or who you know,
whether information is made available to you, as was too often the case before
this Law was enacted.
Abandoning anonymity would be
futile from a practical point of view. First of all, it would be a bureaucratic
nightmare for information managers to have to check the identity of each
requestor, especially since the vast majority of requests are sent electronically.
How would the IM know the request really came from the purported applicant?
Would he/she have to present themselves in person with photo identification?
This would be entirely impractical, it would slow down the process of gaining
access to the information, and it would cost government a lot of time and money
for no apparent reason.
Secondly, whenever (non-personal)
information is released under FOI, it is released to its rightful owner, the
public at large. An applicant can always ask someone else to act as a “conduit”
for him. Various individuals and organizations in Cayman have declared their
willingness to channel requests in order to ensure that all questions can be
asked without revealing the identity of the original applicant, if the rules on
anonymity were ever changed. This would make any rule that requires the
applicant to reveal his real identity practically unenforceable.
In conclusion, diverting the
attention of the interested public away from the information itself, by making
the identity of the applicant the issue, can be nothing more than an attempt to
re-introduce bias and secrecy into the fair and balanced process that is FOI
today. Why should it matter who the requestor is? Who wants to know?