Anders Chydenius

250 years ago today, two centuries before the United States enacted the Freedom of Information Act, the Swedish Parliament passed the Ordinance on Freedom of Writing and of the Press, the world’s first law requiring “publicity for official documents.”

The Finnish-Swedish enlightenment thinker and politician Anders Chydenius was the champion of this 18th century open records law, and today in Sweden the Parliament is holding a special ceremony to mark the day the Ordinance became law. Ironically, Chydenius himself had already been expelled from the Diet because of his trouble-making over oligarchs’ trade privileges and secret military budgets.

“Historians cannot trace a direct line from Sweden’s 1766 law to the U.S. law of 1966, but the Swedish and Finnish idea of publicity for official documents percolated through the 19th century movement in the U.S. that changed common law notions – that requesters had to demonstrate a need to know before they could get government records – into the right to know, now recognized as a fundamental human right,” said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive.

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