Chapter 12: Proactive release and publication


The question we examine in this chapter is whether the official information legislation should require public bodies to proactively release official information. This could be through:

(a)publication to the world (usually via the internet) at the agency’s discretion, without the need for any request from the public;

(b)publication to the world in response to public demand, including individual requests for that information to be published (rather than a request for the information to be provided exclusively to the requester);537 or

(c)publication to the world of the same (or edited) information that is released to an individual requester.

There is an important conceptual difference between (i) reactive release to a single individual in response to a request; and (ii) proactive release at the instigation of the responsible public body. The current structure of the official information legislation is largely predicated on meeting specific requests for information on a reactive basis.

The Commission has no doubt that proactive release is a highly desirable development and much to be encouraged. The question is how this mechanism should be reflected in the legislation, to what extent it should be mandated, and what supporting provisions would be needed to move to a model that embraces both reactive and proactive release. This is often described as a move from a “pull” to a “push” model of information availability: agencies “push” information out, rather than waiting for it to be “pulled” out by requests from members of the public.

Although many agencies now proactively publish a wide range of official information on their websites, there is no legislative requirement to deploy this channel for releasing official information. Currently, any obligation to publish official information is limited to specific types or categories of information.538

In a recent opinion,539 the Chief Ombudsman noted that proactive release has a role to play in realising the intent of the official information legislation to make more information available to the public and that this is consistent with what was originally envisaged by the Danks Committee:540

But the approach we recommend also requires a means of systematically enlarging the range and scope of information available to the public. …

[A]n independent Information Authority would be the instrument for the progressive enlargement of the area of information which is to be publicly available, not only through the issue of guidelines and the audit of progress, but also through recommendations, to be put into effect by government decisions, identifying additional categories of material which should be released or accessible after due consideration of claims for exemption.

The Information Authority played a significant role in the establishment of the official information legislation;541 however its role was not a permanent one and its authority expired in 1988. In this chapter we consider the case for a legislative mandate for systematic proactive release by agencies, in light of the legislation’s purpose and in light of technological advances since 1982.

For example, a requester may prefer requested information to be published with appropriate licensing under the NZGOAL framework (discussed later in this chapter) so that the requester can re-use the information without restriction.

See discussion at [12.84]–[12.92].

Office of the Ombudsmen “Office of the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister of Finance” (W61169, 17 February 2012).

Committee on Official Information Towards Open Government: General Report (Government Printer, Wellington, 1980) at 6 and 11.

See ch 13 at [13.27]–[13.33].