Editorial for December 8: On WikiLeaks

 We suppose someone in the “secret” subcommittee that we guess is going to be deciding the fate of Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law will say something like this over the coming weeks:
“One only need look at what has happened with WikiLeaks to see the dangers inherent in FOI.”
In attempts to head off this foolishness – since we haven’t been invited to participate in any hearings of this secret body – we would opine that the mass, indiscriminate release of government documents to all and sundry, documents that may have been obtained through suspect means, should not be equated to FOI or any open records process or law.  
It is, in fact, the direct opposite of what is supposed to occur under the FOI Law.
Most open records regimes create a set of legal steps whereby individuals can ask for records, government entities can either grant or refuse those requests, the people affected by the release of the information can have their say and there is an appeals process to make sure everything is done fairly. If the legal process is followed, there will be a fair and equitable solution. Everyone might not be pleased with the outcome, but no one can say they were not part of the process. Many pundits in the mass media have spent days giving their views on whether WikiLeaks’ actions in releasing various US diplomatic cables were good or bad, right or wrong. We will not seek to add to their views here.
What we would like to express is our fear that the latest WikiLeaks release will serve as an excuse for governments around the world to further restrict access to legitimate public information.
Indeed, we have seen from experience here in Cayman that the public sector often takes great umbrage when it is embarrassed by information revealed via FOI requests.
But embarrassment is not a reason to begin whittling away at democracy and the free press.


  1. I’m not familiar with the details of Cayman’s FOI legislation but the UK’s FOI 2000 specifically states, "Embarrassment is not a sufficient reason to withhold information."

    And, in general, public bodies here have now learnt the hard way that attempting to withhold embarrassing information only makes matters a lot worse.

    If the right to FOI is not recognised by politicians then they must expect the media (and I’m not condoning WikiLeaks – whose indiscriminate release of information puts lives at risk and falls way outside the bounds of responsible journalism) to get their information from whatever source they can.

    Having worked in a public sector press office in the UK, I can vouch for the fact that there’s nothing more embarrassing for your bosses than seeing something of public interest that they have been trying to try to keep secret splashed across the front page of a local newspaper.

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