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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title III - Making Parliamentary Information Transparent

Sec. 26. Providing Access to Historical Information

Parliamentary information for all prior sessions shall be digitized and made available to the public electronically. Digital information shall be retained in perpetuity and shall continue to be made available to the public. To the extent a parliament cannot digitize and make available its own information, it shall work with outside organizations to facilitate public dissemination of parliamentary information without restriction. Parliament shall provide the public access to a parliamentary library in order to allow members of parliament and the public the ability to access historical parliamentary information.

Historical information provides an important contextual framework for understanding and analyzing current parliamentary activities. It helps lawyers understand the rationale for particular legal decisions, while it helps academics scrutinize the decision-making process over time or benefit from the wealth of information collected on issues touching nearly every aspect of a society’s existence. Public access to historical information should be provided without restriction.

New technologies offer storage, archiving and searchability features that make the digitization of historical records an attractive means for sharing historical information. The IPU recommends making information available on the parliament’s website dating to “as far back as possible” and “[assumes] that documentation that is already digitized will remain available on the website, updated as necessary to comply with the requirements of new technology.”[1] The Organization of American States encourages member states “to take necessary measures to facilitate the electronic availability of public information.”[2] It also follows openness standards developed by the Sunlight Foundation and Transparency International Georgia, which describe permanent archives of government information, preferably online, as crucial to openness and transparency.[3] 

According to the World e-Parliament Report 2010, 59% of democratic parliaments currently have digital preservation programs for documents or are considering them.[4] The United States and European Union both have highly accessible and searchable online systems for current and past legislative actions, entitled “Thomas” and “L’Oeil”, respectively.[5] In Ecuador, the National Congress maintains a searchable online database of all parliamentary action since 1979 which includes “details of the debates and votes that took place on each.”[6] Indonesia’s parliamentary website has a list of past laws, although with slightly less searchability.[7] In New Zealand, a law was passed in 2008 stipulating that all historical law must be digitized, and the program to do so has since been completed with legal information now appearing online.[8] The UK’s Parliament makes available substantial information about past legislation and parliamentary proceedings on their website, as well.[9]

[1] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, p. 12.

[2] OAS AG/RES 2057 (XXXIV-O/04) Access to Public Information: Strengthening Democracy Art. 5

[3] Sunlight Foundation, Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information, 11 Aug 2010; Transparency International Georgia, Ten Open Data Guidelines. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[4] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 98.

[5] Jeffrey Griffith, Beyond Transparency: New Standards for Legislative Information Systems, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, June 2006, p. 19.

[6] IPU, Parliament and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Good Practice, p. 58.

[7] Indonesia on website: 

[8] Website of the Parliament of New Zealand, Accessed on 2/14/2012.

[9] Website of the UK Parliament, Accessed on 2/18/2012.