Accessing information online

  • You have the right to be able to find out information and ideas from lots of places, including online
  • You don’t have a right to go online, although it might be different if not being able to go online means you can’t access information
  • Sometimes you may not be able to access some information because it would be harmful to you

So much information is online, it’s hard to think what we’d do without the internet. There are other sources of information, though – books, newspapers and magazines, and your right is to information, but not necessarily to go online.  Sometimes, you may need to go online to access the information you want – more and more organisations are putting information online and not in other formats.

Just because you can access information online doesn’t mean it will be accurate. Equally, there may be information that you want that you can’t find online, or anywhere else.

You have a right to access information, in lots of different ways. It is probably easier for you to find a lot of the information you are looking for by going online, but your right is to the information, and not to be able to go online in itself.

How can you trust that what you read online is true? It’s not always easy to know. Even if something you read is ‘true’ it may have been presented to you in a way that twists the meaning and is misleading – this is often talked about as ‘fake news’. There aren’t many laws that protect you directly from information on the internet that isn’t true

In Wales, if someone publishes information about a person which isn’t true, they may be breaking the law if the information damages that person.

You may never know 100% if what you are reading is true or not, but if you choose the websites where you get your information from carefully, you will have a better chance of getting accurate information. Websites with news written by journalists may be a more reliable source of information than other source, because journalists have a code of conduct which means they are supposed to make sure information is honest and accurate. If you are looking for information about a person, there may be an ‘official’ website about that person which will probably be more accurate than any unofficially websites or fan sites.

This doesn’t just apply to online information either – but it’s a bigger problem with online information because it’s so easy to share information online.

Some websites ask you to confirm your age before you can go onto the main website. This won’t always be a legal requirement, but the business may decide that it’s a good thing to do if the website is about something that isn’t suitable for younger people. For example, websites which have pornographic content on them will have to have strict age controls to make sure people under 18 can’t see the content on these websites.

If you want information from a public organisation like the government, a local authority or a hospital, you can make a Freedom of Information request. You can be any age to do this. If the information you are asking for is about you or about other people, then other rules may apply too. You can find out more about making a Freedom of Information request here.

Information is available from other places if you can’t go online at home. Libraries can provide access to information, and most services are free. Even if you don’t have access to the internet where you live, libraries often have computers that you can use. If a library doesn’t have the information you need straight away, they may be able to help get it certain information for you. .

If you want information from a specific organisation, you can contact them and ask if they will give you the information. If it’s a public organisation, and you can’t find the information you want, or the organisation won’t give it to you, you can make a Freedom of Information request.

If you want information from an organisation that doesn’t have to respond to a Freedom of Information request, you can always ask – the organisation can only say no but they might say yes. Depending on the kind of information you want, some of it may be available from other places. Information about businesses may be kept at Companies House. Information about charities might be available from the Charity Commission.