From Archive to Database: Reflections on the History of Laws Governing Access to Information

From Archive to Database: Reflections on the History of Laws Governing Access to Information
25 Oct 2018, 17:00 to 25 Oct 2018, 19:30
Woburn Suite, G22/26, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Expert Panel Discussion

From Archive to Database: Reflections on the History of Laws Governing Access to Information


  • Professor Catherine O’Regan, Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, University of Oxford
  • Jo Peddar, Head of Engagement, ICO 
  • Dr David Goldberg, Senior Visiting Fellow, Institute of Computers and Communications Law, Queen Mary College
  • Dr Richard Danbury, Associate Research Fellow, ILPC

Chair: James Michael, Senior Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies

Laws governing the disclosure of information have a broad and global history. From Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act of 1766 to the draft international Convention proposed following the United Nations Conference on Freedom of Information in 1948, and to the South African Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000 which constituted the first access to information law to extend its provisions to the disclosure of information by private bodies. Providing access to (particularly government) information has been central to the making of modern democracies.

More recently, the imperative to provide access to information has necessitated the introduction of regulation that goes beyond the remit of traditional freedom of information laws. Such frameworks include laws governing access to personal data, including the recently enacted UK Data Protection Act and the EU General Data Protection Regulation, to open data laws, as in Germany and the U.S.

At the heart of this development in legislation governing access to information lies a fundamental shift in the nature of information itself, from traditional paper documents to the data and Big Data of today.

According to Keith Beckenridge, author of The Biometric State (2014), there is a clear distinction between these two forms of information and the governmentalities (Foucault) in which they are put to work. He states that ‘the database is not the archive’ and argues that data-based technologies have been developed in a deliberate move away from the ‘the paper State’ and ‘documentary bureaucracy’. To put this differently, the shift from paper documents to data marks a shift in the very manner in which the state functions and governs. This major change poses implications for transparency and oversight, thereby affecting how the individual may hold the State’s actions to account – a crucial bulwark against governmental power and overreach into the life of the individual in the data-driven 21st century.

In light of the above, it becomes pertinent to revisit the idea and political value of access to information laws. To this end, the ILPC will be hosting an evening seminar to discuss these issues and to generate critical reflections on the historical development of access to information laws in their different permutations. 

A wine reception will follow the panel discussion.

This event is free but advance booking is required.  All welcome.


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