Irish Government Moves Into The Digital Age By Treating Everything Like Paper

from the progress,-eh?-not-sure-I'm-familiar-with-that-term... dept

Updating laws for the digital age is hard. Apparently. Maybe it’s just a government problem. After all, an entity that generally moves at the speed of a narcoleptic sloth and with the grace of an ocean liner can’t be expected to turn on a dime and start bureaucratizing like it’s 1999.

The Irish government is currently in the process of updating its Freedom of Information laws, and from the looks of what’s surfaced so far, it’s attempting to legislate itself back to the mid-1970s.

Section 17 (4) (b) in particular contains the following restriction on how much freedom you can expect your information to have.

“[T]he FOI body shall take reasonable steps to search for and extract the records to which the request relates, having due regard to the steps that would be considered reasonable if the records were held in paper format…”

This then is the yardstick by which ‘reasonable’ action shall be based. You only have to do it if it was reasonable if everything was printed out and you had only paper to work with.

Query a database? Sure, it might only take a moment to use the search box. But if I had to print it all out and go through it by hand, that would be an unreasonable demand. So, no.

It’s almost as though someone caught the government inadvertently dragging itself into the digital age and ordered the Efficiency Committee to take a long look at the bill’s wording and see if there wasn’t some excess efficiency that couldn’t be streamlined out.

If this bill passes, FOI requests in Ireland will be treated as if the government is putting its best men (and women) on it, even if it’s really just a bored intern running some surface-level searches. Sure, Ted the lazy but relatively competent, unpaid intern may be able to access the appropriate documents and spit them out of the nearest laser printer in 5-10 minutes, but in doing so, has completely undercut the nearly-universal governmental tendency to add extra steps to processes and racking up amazing amounts of man-hours/woman-hours.

The Irish government is rooted in years of tradition (“rooted” being the key) — as it always was, so shall it always be. This purity will be maintained even if it means carving out alternate realities with creative legislation.

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Comments on “Irish Government Moves Into The Digital Age By Treating Everything Like Paper”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The outrage machine reads the language in question as “only produce stuff if it would have been reasonable to produce it were it on paper”. Could the language really be intended to prevent agencies from saying “it’s too complicated and expensive to answer that request because the info is held in a computer” for info that would be easily available were it held on paper?

Claire Ryan says:

Re: Re:

Irish person here. No, the point of this is to stop Irish journalists and whatnot from getting too much information. It’s effectively a get-out clause for the government if they don’t want to reveal something – ‘sorry, not reasonable, we can’t give you that info.’

There’s one particular journalist by the name of Gavin Sheridan who’s been making a lot of FOIA requests to get anything out of the government, and the number of bullshit excuses they use to get out of it is staggering. So this looks like just another they can use if needed.

Seriously, I don’t think you realise just how completely fucked up the Irish government is… if someone told me tomorrow that they’d decided to only accept requests by carrier pigeon, I’d believe it. And the very idea that they’d do something that isn’t completely self-serving and tainted by cronyism or flat-out incompetence is ridiculous to me at this point.

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