WHAT IS INFORMATION POLICY?
Information policy determines the kind of information collected, created, organized, stored, accessed, disseminated and retained. Who can use the information, whether there will be charges for access, and the amount charged, is also covered. Usually associated with government information, information policy also establishes the rules within which private information providers and the media operate.
Information policy includes the following areas:
WHAT IS TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY?
Telecommunications policy determines the operating rules for telephone, cable, satellite, and wireless transmission and computer networks. These are the pipelines through which information is transmitted electronically.
Telecommunications policy includes the following areas:
WHY SHOULD I BE INTERESTED?
Information is essential to participation in all aspects of society. You require information to determine where you live, what you buy, getting a job, health risks connected to food and environmental problems, retirement planning, and how you vote. If information you are used to getting for free from libraries and government agencies is suddenly charged for, or if the telephone system begins to charge for each call you make and the length of the call, these decisions will have a profound affect on the quality of your life.
Over the next decade, hundreds of billions of dollars will be invested in telecommunication networks (telephone, cable, and satellite) and the production of information and entertainment products. Billions will be made in profits. Government and industry are currently involved in hearings, task forces, and committees. The outcome will determine who benefits and who pays in the coming information economy.
The public is not represented at these hearings and discussions. Only a few community organizations with limited resources are attempting to represent the public interest. Among these are libraries, Public Interest Advocacy Groups, Freenets, and groups working for freedom of information and protection of privacy. This brochure outlines some of the issues that are important to you.
The ability to read and write is fundamental to participating in the workforce, being active socially and politically or defending your interests. Up to 25% of the Canadian population do not have sufficient skills to accomplish basic daily tasks. Lack of literacy skills causes great personal hardship as well as costing the economy over $4 billion a year. Any information policy must provide the resources to assist individuals to get this basic skill.
Governments are the largest producers of information in Canada. These same governments, (federal, provincial, municipal) are also desperately looking for revenue. One source of revenue under consideration is selling government information to the private sector for repackaging and resale to the public or to charge the public directly.
Some believe that government information should be sold for revenue. But many, such as librarians, believe that taxpayers have already paid for the collection of the information and they should be assured of free access to the information required to be participate fully in society.
Libraries are the major source of government information for most people in Canada. A Federal Government program and some Provincial programs place a copy of most government publications in major libraries. Such programs are underfunded, not protected by legislation, and vulnerable to changes in government policy. Many documents are never sent to the libraries. Some information is only available in electronic form and is therefore not available in many libraries.
A strong and protected library depository program will assure your access to government information such as health information, labour standards, consumer information, environmental enforcement reports, Hansard and government committee and legislative reports.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LEGISLATION
FOI legislation allows individuals to request a wide range of government information that may not normally be available. The Federal government and all the provinces except Alberta and Prince Edward Island have some version of this legislation although the degree of access varies widely.
FOI legislation is important because it begins to open the operations of government to public scrutiny. All versions of this legislation require improvements to increase access and limit the exemptions to releasing information.
PERSONAL PRIVACY PROTECTION
Computers and telecommunications make it possible for governments and corporations to collect vast amounts of information on individuals. Protection of personal information is an important concern for most people.
Personal privacy protection legislation ensures that you know what information the government is collecting about you; that it is only collected for specific reasons associated with specific government programs or laws; and that you can correct any inaccurate information.
The Federal Government and most provinces have some privacy legislation covering government data. Recent studies have shown that most people are concerned about protection of privacy for information held by the private sector. Quebec has recently extended legislated privacy protection to the private sector.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS
Copyright, patents, and trademarks protect the investment of creators in their creation. On the other side, intellectual property rights create barriers to access, particularly in libraries where many users want to photocopy part of a book for research or personal information. Current copyright legislation calls this into question.
This many sided debate requires a balance between the rights of creators and the access rights of the public.
CITIZEN'S INFORMATION CHARTER OF RIGHTS
A Citizen's Information Charter of Rights will provide protection to the public and insure that a basic level of information will be freely available to all.
It will take a major political effort on the part of a wide spectrum of the community to achieve such a Charter.
The Canadian Library Association is currently distributing a draft set of Information Access Principles for discussion by its membership and the general community.
All citizens should have the right to:
REGULATION OF THE TELEPHONE AND CABLE SYSTEMS
The Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has recently held hearings in Ottawa to determine the most effective way to regulate the telecommunications industry. Decisions made in 1992 ended the telephone service monopoly that was held by the major telephone companies. Introducing competition means that the old telephone companies are competing for long-distance revenue with new companies.
Long-distance revenues for the traditional telephone companies have dropped. The CRTC held Regulatory Framework hearings in 1994/95 and adopted a strategy called "rate-rebalancing".
As a result, two annual increases of $2.00 were given to the telephone companies based on reducing long distance charges. The Federal Government has since allowed the telephone companies to keep the money rather than reduce long distance rates. This amounts to a bonus of $4.5 billion over ten years.
Worse, the CRTC is now holding hearings to create alternatives for the poor such as "targeted subsidies" or "budget services" where local calls are limited and access to long distance may involve a surcharge. There is even the possibility of Local Metered Service (charging by the number and length of local calls).
Once again, the public interest was not represented and local phone service is dramatically increasing in costs.
WHAT IS THE ELECTRONIC HIGHWAY?
A popular term in the media, the "electronic highway" refers to the high-speed telecommunication network, including telephone, cable and satellite, which will allow vast amounts of information and entertainment to be distributed to your home.
Who will own this network? Who will have access to it? Who will be excluded from it? Who is participating in developing the policy around these issues? One thing is for sure, the public is not being asked and is not participating in the decisions that will affect every person in this country.
Canada, through the Canadian Network for Advanced Research in Industry and Education (CANARIE), is building a high-speed network. This is being build with private funds and government support. However, little consideration has been given to providing access to libraries, community organizations and freenets. Even less consideration has been given to providing resources for the creation of non-commercial public information on this network. Current policies will divide the population into those who have broad access to high-speed telecommunication networks and other sources of information and those who do not. Those who have access will have an advantage over those who do not in every area of their lives.
Freenets are free, public access, community computer systems which are being developed in communities across North America. They attempt to provide access to the new technologies so people who are not wealthy can create and share information with others in their local community or across the world.
Freenets are not wealthy and, like other community organizations, are in danger of being shut out of the new telecommunication networks. Many, like librarians, believe that the power of the new technologies should be available to everyone. Policies must be developed to ensure that freenets, libraries and other community organizations and individuals are not excluded from the electronic highway.
Many government studies and hearings are being held to plan the electronic future of Canada. Your voice must be heard.
Libraries and other community organizations will be sponsoring programs, discussion groups, and debates on the issues outlined in this brochure. Come and be educated and informed. Let governments, community organizations and corporations know your opinions.
Make sure that public rights are not lost in this electronic future.
Copyright © 1995 BCLA Information Policy Committee
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