Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener and the Liberty Justice Center. Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label private sector. Show all posts
Showing posts with label private sector. Show all posts

Sunday, September 12, 2021

FOIA committee ponders access amid privatization

I had the great privilege last week to speak to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee, working under the aegis of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on the subject of access to the private sector in the public interest.

The OPEN the Government Act of 2007 augmented FOIA to follow public records into the hands of government contractors.  But the federal FOIA's reach into the private sector remains extremely limited relative to other access-to-information (ATI) systems in the United States and the world.  U.S. states vary widely in approach; the vast majority of state open records acts reaches into the private sector upon some test of state delegation, whether public funding, function, or power.  The same approach predominates in Europe.

The lack of such a mechanism at the federal level in the United States has resulted in a marked deficit of accountability in privatization.  The problem is especially pronounced in areas in which civil rights are prone to abuse, such as privatized prison services, over which the FOIA Advisory Committee and Congress have expressed concern.  By executive order, President Biden is ending the federal outsourcing of incarceration.  But access policy questions remain in questions about the past, in waning contracts, and in persistent privatization in some states.

As I have written in recent years, and examined relative to ATI in the United States, Europe, and India, an emerging model of ATI in Africa advances a novel theory of private-sector access in the interest of human-rights accountability.  I was privileged to share this model, and the theory behind it, with the committee.  I thank the committee for its indulgence, especially OGIS Director Alina Semo for her leadership and Villanova Law Professor Tuan Samahon for his interest in my work now and in the past.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Transparencia, acceso a información se imponen como normas frágiles en acuerdo ambiental de Escazú

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, Costa Rica
(2014 foto por RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
(English.) En el Día de la Madre Tierra en abril, entró en vigor un acuerdo internacional clave sobre ambientalismo y sostenibilidad.  El acuerdo es innovador en transparencia, pero enfrenta resistencia en su implementación.

El Acuerdo Regional sobre Acceso a la Información, la Participación Pública y el Acceso a la Justicia en Asuntos Ambientales en América Latina y el Caribe se adoptó en Escazú, Costa Rica, en marzo de 2018.  El acuerdo ha sido firmado por 24 países de América Latina y el Caribe, y ratificado por 12, incluidos México y Argentina en enero.  Pero la vitalidad del acuerdo está en duda ya que algunos principales actores, incluidos Chile y Perú, han dejado en suspenso su apoyo.

El acuerdo tiene dos artículos que tratan específicamente del acceso a la información. El artículo 5 se refiere al acceso de los ciudadanos al gobierno, y el artículo 6 se refiere a la difusión afirmativa de información en manos del gobierno.  Según "el principio de máxima publicidad," el artículo 5 establece un sistema de acceso típico a la información que incluye una neutralidad de motivos, el derecho a respuesta en 30 dias, y apelar, reenvío de solicitudes en busca de información, elección de formato, limitación de costos razonables, acceso parcial a información no exenta, y el derecho a una explicación de la denegación por escrito.

La denegación de acceso debe basarse en razones establecidas en la ley de antemano y debe interpretarse estrictamente con la carga de la prueba en el gobierno. Cuando la ley no dispone lo contrario, se permite la denegación solo por riesgo para la vida o la seguridad, seguridad nacional, protección del medio ambiente o una probable amenaza de daño sustancial a las fuerzas del orden. Los supuestos intereses públicos en la denegación del acceso deben sopesarse con los beneficios públicos en la divulgación "sobre la base de elementos de idoneidad, necesidad y proporcionalidad."  El artículo 5 también demanda la creación de un organismo de supervisión independiente.

Si el artículo 5 detalla una medida bienvenida de transparencia ambiental, ninguno es radical.  El gobierno de México reconoció que las obligaciones de transparencia eran consistentes con la ley nacional de libertad de información. Las obligaciones afirmativas del artículo 6 son más rigurosas.

El artículo 6 requiere que las autoridades públicas "generen, recopilen, pongan a disposición del público y difundan la información ambiental relevante para sus funciones de manera sistemática, proactiva, oportuna, regular, accesible y comprensible, y que actualicen periódicamente esta información y alienten la desagregación y descentralización de la información ambiental a nivel subnacional y local."

Una lista de información requerida para estar disponible públicamente incluye zonas contaminadas, "fuentes relativas a cambio climático," y "residuos por tipo y, cuando sea posible, desagregado por volumen, localización y año."  Además, las autoridades deben establecer "un registro de emisiones y transferencia de contaminantes al aire, agua, suelo y subsuelo," y, "en caso de amenaza inminente a la salud pública o al medio ambiente, ... divulgar[ar] de forma inmediata y por los medios más efectivos toda la información relevante que se encuentre en su poder y que permita al público tomar medidas para prevenir o limitar eventuales daños."

Sin embargo, a pesar de todas esas expectativas, el verdadero escollo político podría encontrarse al final del artículo 6.  El problema surge cuando el estado va a morder la mano que lo alimenta.  El artículo 6 insta a las partes del acuerdo a promover la transparencia ambiental en la contratación pública.  Y los dos últimos párrafos del artículo 6 establecen:

Cada Parte adoptará las medidas necesarias, a través de marcos legales y administrativos, entre otros, para promover el acceso a la información ambiental que esté en manos de entidades privadas, en particular la relativa a sus operaciones y los posibles riesgos y efectos en la salud humana y el medio ambiente.

Cada Parte incentivará, de acuerdo con sus capacidades, la elaboración de informes de sostenibilidad de empresas públicas y privadas, en particular de grandes empresas, que reflejen su desempeño social y ambiental.

Si bien México consideró que el acuerdo es compatible con la ley de transparencia, según un comentario del bufete de abogados internacional Garrigues, con sede en Madrid, Perú se resiste al acuerdo específicamente porque su ley de transparencia ya funciona.  Perú también lamentó "pérdida de soberanía del Estado ... en el manejo de sus recursos naturales," si la ejecución puede ser sometida a la Corte Internacional de Justicia. Además, Garrigues explicó:

[T]ambién se sostuvo que el Acuerdo de Escazú representaría un peligro para los derechos adquiridos a través de concesiones, contratos, convenios o autorizaciones otorgadas, así como a la propiedad privada, en tanto se dispone el acceso a la información ambiental sin expresión de causa, lo cual podría ocasionar la paralización de las inversiones, además de imponer obligaciones que no deberían soportar las entidades privadas.

Laguna Cejas, Salar de Atacama, Chile
(2015 foto por RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Chile, que había sido un actor clave en las negociaciones junto con Costa Rica, como proponente del acuerdo, citó de manera similar, entre sus muchas razones para retirar su apoyo al acuerdo, ambigüedad sobre "el tipo de información ambiental ni otros aspectos de la obligación que se impone a las 'entidades privadas' de generar y divulgar."

La importancia de la transparencia para la responsabilidad ambiental está bien establecida. El acuerdo de Escazú en sí se inició como producto de la Declaración de Río sobre el medio ambiente y el desarrollo, en 1992. El acceso a la información ha sido parte de otras iniciativas ambientales importantes, a saber, la Convención de Aarhus sobre el acceso a la información, la participación pública en la toma de decisiones, y acceso a la justicia en materia ambiental, que entró en vigor en 2001, y el Protocolo de Cartagena sobre bioseguridad del convenio sobre la diversidad biológica, que entró en vigor en 2003.

Incluso en los Estados Unidos, donde el acceso a la información por estatuto ha variado desde la famosa innovación en la década de 1960 hasta la infame torpeza (quiero decir "clunkiness" en inglés) de hoy, el desastre de Bhopal, y una emergencia doméstica, precipitaron leyes de transparencia en 1986 y en 1990 y dieron como resultado un registro público de emisiones tóxicas mantenido por la Agencia de Protección Ambiental.  Los Estados Unidos también requieren una transparencia sectorial limitada en el sector privado con respecto a la salud pública. En una historia reciente, On the Media informó sobre la transparencia de la investigación médica requerida por la ley federal, si bien junto con una alarmante falta de cumplimiento.

En 2018, escribí sobre una doctrina de acceso a la información en Sudáfrica empleada para obtener información suelta de corporaciones privadas sobre riesgos y daños ambientales. Gigantes agroquímicos como Monsanto, ahora parte de Bayer, intervinieron en litigio sudafricano para evitar el acceso a información sobre modificaciones genéticas patentadas.  Ciertamente, América Latina no es ajena a la explotación por parte de los agronegocios, y la transparencia, especialmente en el sector privado, es una herramienta vital para proteger la salud pública ahora en el futuro.

Países latinoamericanos han avanzado en áreas como la protección de datos y la regulación alimentaria que avergüenzan a Estados Unidos. Pero la batalla contra la corrupción es interminable. El destino del Acuerdo de Escazú lo dirá.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Courts extend European accountability laws to private actors: Italian soccer federation, Irish wind farm

Two recent court decisions in Europe construed European directives on public accountability to reach ostensibly private actors, the Italian soccer federation and an Irish wind-power producer.

Stocksnap by Michal Jarmoluk CC0
The problem of accountability for private actors performing public functions is as old as the corporate form.  Burgeoning corporatocracy in the electronic era has rendered new challenges to the classical public-private dichotomy, in recent years, especially, in the area of social media regulation (e.g., pro and con).  I have written about rethinking this problem in the context of access to information, regarding reform in both the United States and Europe, and I continue to research emerging models in the developing world.  As a general matter, Europe has been much less reticent than the United States to breach the public-private line with accountability mechanisms such as transparency laws.

In early February, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg ruled that the Italian Football Federation, or Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), an ostensibly private entity, is sometimes a public body for purposes of the 2014 European directive on public procurement.  The directive defines public bodies within its purview:

(a) they are established for the specific purpose of meeting needs in the general interest, not having an industrial or commercial character;

(b) they have legal personality; and

(c) they are financed, for the most part, by the State, regional or local authorities, or by other bodies governed by public law; or are subject to management supervision by those authorities or bodies; or have an administrative, managerial or supervisory board, more than half of whose members are appointed by the State, regional or local authorities, or by other bodies governed by public law.

The definition is not unlike formulations in state freedom of information acts in the United States, which tend to press harder against the public-private line than the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does.  A classic example of disparate approaches in the states concerns access to the wealthy private foundations that lurk behind public universities.  My colleague Professor Robert Steinbuch has been bearing the transparency standard on this front in Arkansas and is supporting a bill there now.

At issue in the Italian case was a contract for porter services when foreign squads visit Italy.  A disappointed contractor challenged the process and won a round in Italy's high administrative court, and the appellate Council of State in Italy referred the interpretation question to the CJEU.  Both in the United States and globally, governing bodies in sport, often set up as private or quasi-public entities, have posed aggravating challenges in public accountability like the university-foundation problem.  Inapplicability of the FOIA to the US Olympic Committee has been cited as a contributing factor in sexual-assault cover-ups, and last summer, I took in no fewer than three books and a TV series on the intractable corruption in world soccer.

The CJEU opinion determined that the FIGC, constituted under private law, can act as a private body when it has autonomy to form private contracts.  However, the Italian National Olympic Committee (NOC) is a public body and has supervisory power, sometimes with a controlling stake, over some FIGC functions.  Insofar as the NOC is calling the shots on contracts, the FIGC is a public body, subject to public procurement rules.  The CJEU opinion now goes back to the Italian courts to parse the specifics. 

Cronelea Wind Farm in County Wicklow, 2008
Meanwhile, in late January, the High Court of Ireland ruled that electric company Raheenleagh Power DAC (RP) is a "public authority" for purposes of the Irish enactment of the European directive on public access to environmental information.  The law and directive define public authorities:

(a) government or other public administration, including public advisory bodies, at national, regional or local level;

(b) any natural or legal person performing public administrative functions under national law, including specific duties, activities or services in relation to the environment; and

(c) any natural or legal person having public responsibilities or functions, or providing public services, relating to the environment under the control of a body or person falling within (a) or (b).

Reversing the Irish Commissioner for Environmental Information, the High Court determined that RP came within the definition's latter terms.  The court explained, "RP is a joint-venture company which operates a wind farm in a forest in the Wicklow Mountains. The wind farm supplies electricity to the national grid."  Complicating the analysis, the RP venture includes a one-half stake by the national-monopoly Electricity Supply Board (ESB), which the court described as "an independent semi-State company."

Like in the Italian case, the court reasoned that ESB control and management of RP brought it within the purview of public accountability law.  The ruling is important for the example it sets amid the wide range of public-private hybrids providing critical utility and infrastructure across Europe and the world.

Even so, I would like to have seen the court hang its hat more firmly on the functional analysis of the cited paragraph (b), rather than resorting to the paradigm of state control.  The urgent communal interests at stake in environmental protection have been a salient inducement to the extension of transparency law in Europe and Africa.  Western social democracies have been keen to ameliorate the effects of climate change, and many African regimes have awakened to lasting environmental damage inflicted by colonial enterprises.

The Italian case is FIGC v. De Vellis Servizi Globali Srl, nos. C‑155/19 and C‑156/19, ECLI:EU:C:2021:88 (CJEU Feb. 3, 2021).  Cain Burdeau has coverage for Courthouse NewsSven Demeulemeester, William Timmermans, and Matthias Ballieu have commentary for Altius in Belgium.

The Irish case is Right to Know CLG v. Commissioner for Environmental Information, [2021] IEHC 46 (High Ct. Jan. 25, 2021) (Ireland).  Mr. Justice Alexander Owens delivered the judgment.  Right to Know is a transparency advocacy organization headed by activist, blogger, and entrepreneur Gavin Sheridan and former and working journalists.  Jonathan Moore and Patrick Reilly have commentary for Field Fisher in Dublin.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Book chapter examines information access in context of Polish privatization, law and development

My colleague Gaspar Kot and I have published a book chapter entitled Private-Sector Transparency as Development Imperative: An African Inspiration.  The chapter appears in the new book, Law and Development: Balancing Principles and Values, from Springer, edited by Professors Piotr Szwedo, Dai Tamada, and me (more in the next entry on this blog).  Here is our abstract:
Access to information (ATI) is essential to ethical and efficacious social and economic development. Transparency ensures that human rights are protected and not overwhelmed by profiteering or commercial priorities. Accordingly, ATI has become recognised as a human right that facilitates the realisation of other human rights. But ATI as conceived in Western law has meant only access to the state. In contemporary development, private actors are crucial players, as they work for, with, and outside the state to realise development projects. This investment of public interest in the private sector represents a seismic shift in social, economic, and political power from people to institutions, akin to the twentieth-century creation of the social-democratic state.
Contingent on state accountability, Western ATI law has struggled to follow the public interest into the private sector. Western states are stretching ATI law to reach the private sector upon classical rationales for access to the state. In Poland, hotly contested policy initiatives over privatisation and public reinvestment have occasioned this stretching of ATI law in the courts. Meanwhile, in Africa, a new model for ATI has emerged. Since the reconstruction of the South African state after Apartheid, South African ATI law has discarded the public-private divide as prohibitive of access. Rather than focusing on the nature of a private ATI respondent’s activity as determinative of access, South African law looks to the demonstrated necessity of access to protect human rights.
This chapter examines cases from South Africa that have applied this new ATI model to the private sector in areas with development implications. For comparison, the article then examines the gradually expanding but still more limited Western approach to ATI in the private sector as evidenced in Polish ATI law. This research demonstrates that amid shifting power in key development areas such as energy and communication, Polish courts have been pressing ATI to work more vigorously in the private sector upon theories of attenuated state accountability, namely public ownership, funding, and function. We posit that Poland, and other states in turn, should jettison these artifices of state accountability and look instead to the South African model, since replicated elsewhere in Africa, for direct access to the private sector. ATI law should transcend the public-private divide, and the nations of the North and West should recognise human rights as the definitive rationale for ATI in furtherance of responsible development.
Gaspar Kot
With Mr. Kot's help, this chapter extends to a European context my previously published comparative work on private-sector information access. Gaspar's expertise was invaluable for Polish legal research, to be sure, but moreover to help me to understand Poland's richly complex, on-again-off-again courtship of privatization.

In earlier works, I compared the South African approach with the United States FOIA and with Indian RTI law.  I am excited about this approach in access-to-information law, which is now gaining traction elsewhere in Africa, because I believe it to be a potential game-changer in saving democracy and human dignity from corporatocracy. I am spending some of my sabbatical time this semester in Africa and other parts of the developing world studying how this approach is especially salient in the context of problems in social and economic development.

Friday, March 29, 2019

S.D. newspaper seeks transparency in federal food subsidies through SCOTUS-bound FOIA suit

Amicus brief in FMI v. Argus Leader
On April 22, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (LII), case concerning the federal open records law exemption for sensitive competitive information.  Textually, the American access-to-information (ATI) statute, para. (b)(4) ("exemption 4"), exempts from disclosure "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [or legal personality] and privileged or confidential."  State ATI laws have comparable provisions, and interpretation of the federal law is sometimes influential on state courts interpreting similar language. 

Plaintiff below, Respondent Argus Leader Media publishes the Argus Leader, the largest-circulation newspaper in South Dakota, based in Sioux Falls, and a member of the USA Today newspaper network.  In investigation of federal food subsidies, the Leader invoked the FOIA to find out how much taxpayer money is paid by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to individual food retailers.  The USDA refused on a number of grounds, including exemption 4.  Joining the USDA in resisting disclosure is a trade association of food retailers, Petitioner Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

The Eighth Circuit, per U.S. Circuit Judge Jane L. Kelly, upheld the trial court's ruling in favor of the newspaper.  Argus Leader Media v. USDA, 889 F.3d 914 (8th Cir. 2018).  The court wrote: 
Applying the law to the facts, we find no basis for reversal. The trial evidence showed that the grocery industry is highly competitive, but is already rich with publically-available data that market participants (and prospective market entrants) use to model their competitors' sales. The evidence shows that releasing the contested data is likely to make these statistical models marginally more accurate. But the evidence does not support a finding that this marginal improvement in accuracy is likely to cause substantial competitive harm. The USDA's evidence showed only that more accurate information would allow grocery retailers to make better business decisions.

On appeal (No. 18-481: SCOTUSblog, Oyez), the parties dispute how to interpret exemption 4.  The Eighth Circuit followed the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court to define "confidential" as risking "substantial competitive harm."  Even within that test, lower courts have divided over the requisite degree of certainty to bring the exemption into play, from the reasonable possibility of advantage to a competitor to a near certainty that economic loss will result. FMI would instead prefer that the Court embrace a much broader exemption: what FMI calls the "ordinary meaning" of the word "confidential," that is, simply, exempting from disclosure information that a company has not disclosed.

I signed on in support of Argus Leader Media to an Amicus Brief of FOIA and First Amendment Scholars, organized by the First Amendment Clinic at Cornell Law School, by students under the leadership of faculty including Assistant Director Cortelyou C. Kenney, and for my part via FOIA expert Professor Margaret Kwoka at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  The brief asserts:

Petitioner [FMI] argues for sweeping changes to FOIA’s test for disclosure of confidential commercial information under Exemption 4 used by all Courts of Appeals for the past forty-four years, beginning with National Parks in 1974. Acknowledging that FOIA does not define the term “confidential,” the National Parks court held that the statute requires disclosure— notwithstanding a claim that the withheld records are confidential commercial information—absent a showing of either (1) impairment of the government’s ability to obtain necessary information in the future; or, as relevant here, (2) infliction of substantial competitive harm to the information submitter. 498 F.2d 765, 770 (D.C. Cir. 1974). That test has withstood the test of time. Any change should come from Congress, rather than this Court, because of the unusual context of FOIA, and the unusual context of this case.

Saliently, to my mind, the brief demonstrates congressional approval of the "substantial harm" test, and the FOIA ought not be reinterpreted contrary to its laudable aim of transparency.

As I have written recently in another context, the greatest threat around the world today to transparency and accountability might come from the private sector as surely as from the public sector.  There should be no question as to the need to maximize transparency where the two meet.  While FMI lobbies Congress and works through a Food PAC and "political education fund," certainly taxpayers are entitled to know what public subsidies are being delivered to FMI constituents.

Other signatories on the brief are: Ashutosh A. Bhagwat, Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law, University of California, Davis School of Law; Michael C. Dorf, Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law,
Cornell Law School; Heidi Kitrosser, Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School; Seth F. Kreimer, Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Law; Margaret B. Kwoka, Associate Professor with Tenure, University of Denver Sturm College of Law; James O’Reilly, Retired Professor, University of Cincinnati College of Law; and Nelson Tebbe, Professor of Law, Cornell Law School.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Research examines accountability through journalism and right to information in India

I've published a research article (available on SSRN), "Accountability in the Private Sector: African Ambition for Right to Information in India," in the latest volume (25:3) of the Panjab University Research Journal Social Sciences.  Here is the abstract:

The right to information (RTI) has come to recognition as a human right in international law. Conventionally, RTI is a means for a person to demand information from a public body. RTI has proven especially potent in the hands of journalists, who seek information on behalf of the electorate to hold public institutions accountable. But in the recent decades in which RTI has attained human rights stature, power in society has shifted in substantial measure from public to private sector. Journalistic inquiry is frustrated by the inapplicability of access laws to private bodies. In India, direct access to the private sector through RTI law was considered and rejected in the 1990s; however, the 2005 RTI Act allows a generous measure of access to non-governmental actors with public ties. A legal movement has been gaining steam in Africa to push past the public-private divide and recognise the importance of RTI to protect human rights regardless of the public or private character of the respondent. Different approaches are emerging with respect to journalist access in the African model. Amid trending privatisation and burgeoning private power, the time might be coming for India to reconsider the road not taken.

The Research Journal Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed publication of Panjab University in union-administered Chandigarh, India.  Panjab is a public university on 550 acres, enrolling 17,000 students in 78 departments and 15 centers for teaching and research, including a law school.  More than 250,000 more students are enrolled in 198 constituent and affiliated colleges and centers throughout the region.  Founded in 1882, Panjab was split in the 1947 partition of India from the University of Punjab, now in Pakistan.

Dr. Verma
This issue of the journal is dedicated to development and mass communication.  I was fortunate to be invited to contribute by the special editor of the issue, Dr. Manish Verma (LinkedIn), who serves as director of international affairs and director of the School of Media at Amity University Jaipur in Rajasthan.  Dr. Verma is a Ph.D. graduate of Panjab University and an alumnus of the Executive Program in Management and Leadership in Education at Harvard University.  He's also a top-shelf colleague.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Research proposes U.S. FOIA reform upon South African example

I've published in the Villanova Law Review, "Access to Information in the Private Sector: African Inspiration for U.S. FOIA Reform" (available from SSRN).  The article appears as part of a symposium edition of the law review (63:5) on FOIA reform.  The special edition commemorates 50 years of the FOIA, which was passed by Congress in 1966 and went into effect in 1967.  I was privileged to present the piece at the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law in 2017, upon generous invitation to the Norman J. Shachoy Symposium.  Here is the foreword (footnotes omitted):
The Freedom of Information Act of 1966 (FOIA) was a landmark global example of transparency, or access to information (ATI), to ensure democratically accountable governance.  Government had grown in the twentieth century, especially in the new administrative state, and FOIA re-balanced the distribution of power between people and public authority.  Today in the twenty-first century, much power in American society has migrated from the public sector to the private sector, specifically into the hands of corporations.  Even insofar as it works well, FOIA operates only against the conventional state by enabling an individual’s capacity to realize civil and political rights.  FOIA simply was not designed to enable the attainment of human necessities such as education and housing, much less environmental protection and healthcare, especially when the greatest threat to those rights is not government deprivation, but the commercial marketplace.

ATI in Africa is a different story.  Three decades after FOIA, planted among the unprecedented ambitions of the South African constitution was a right to ATI.   And within that right lay an extraordinary new provision.  As guaranteed by the South African constitution and enabling law, a person may request records from a nongovernmental respondent, a private body, if the person can show that the records are “required for the exercise or protection of any rights.”   In other words, South African ATI law jettisoned the historic barrier between public and private sectors.  South African lawmakers were informed by the experience of apartheid, in which the private sector’s complicity had been a vital and brutal partner in state-sanctioned human rights abuse.
Blossoming beyond even the visioning of an apartheid remedy, ATI in the private sector has been construed by the courts in a wide range of applications, from intrafamilial business disputes to environmental conservation.  South African courts have struggled to define “required” and “rights” in applying the ATI law.  But South Africa has demonstrated that ATI in the private sector can work.  The public-private division justifies a change in the terms of access, but not an absolute barrier.  In the last five years, the South African approach has been reiterated in the domestic law of at least five other African countries and in pan-African human rights instruments meant to inspire more domestic adoptions.

In this article, I suggest that the African example inspire U.S. FOIA reform.  In its time, FOIA shone a light into the darkest corners of American politics.  Now America deserves a new approach to restore power to the people in the age of the corporation.