UK Officials Hoping To Change Freedom Of Information Law To Include Less Of Both

from the information-wants-to-be-withheld dept

The UK’s short-lived, awkward relationship with its Freedom of Information law appears to winding its way towards an acrimonious divorce. Not fully implemented until 2005 and disowned by its co-creator (former PM Tony Blair) in his memoirs only five years later, it has apparently now reached the point of irreconcilable differences: those being the public’s interest in what their representatives are doing and their representatives’ extreme disinterest in sharing their feelings emails and documents.

Not that it ever was a fully-functioning Freedom of Information law (it was pre-sabotaged by automated email deletion programs before it ever went into effect), but it was at least somthing. But, sadly, it appears the UK government’s “embrace” of transparency is every bit as sincere and warm-hearted as its embrace of free speech.

Michael Gove, the justice secretary, is considering making it more difficult to procure information from government bodies, including allowing officials to count “thinking time” when calculating how much it costs to retrieve information. One plan is to make it easier for ministers to veto publication of certain documents… Another is to change the way the cost of finding information is calculated so that officials can more readily turn down requests.

The first aspect would hand final veto power over to acting prime ministers. This is viewed by Gove and others as “needed” because the government was unable to prevent Prince Charles’ correspondence from being released to The Guardian. As is almost always the case with contested open records requests, some embarrassment resulted from the publication of the released documents — which showed that member of royalty pushing his personal perspective on issues like defense spending… or homeopathy… on a variety of legislators.

The second aspect is more related to Michael Gove’s own FOI problems. Gove has previously been investigated for using personal email accounts to conduct official business. The 90-day automatic email destruction policy the UK government instituted is somewhat helpful in keeping the public uninformed, but what if someone wants to retain these official records longer for personal reasons, but doesn’t feel particularly compelled to share them with FOI requesters? Well, that’s where the discussion of fees comes into play.

Currently, citizens can request anything as long as the costs incurred by government bodies doesn’t exceed £600. Considering many files are stored electronically, can be easily searched and resulting documents sent electronically, costs of fulfilling requests continue to decrease. So, Gove and others are suggesting a couple of changes: lowering the £600 cutoff point and/or padding invoices. The latter would see such intangibles as “considering” potential document releases billed at an hourly rate. Redaction efforts would also be billed.

If these changes are put into effect, FOI releases will slow to a trickle and some requests will meet with an almost un-challengable refusal, thanks to executive veto power. David Cameron promised a “complete revolution in transparency” during his term. Depending on your opinion of Cameron, this is either the antithesis of his goal, or exactly what he had in mind.

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Comments on “UK Officials Hoping To Change Freedom Of Information Law To Include Less Of Both”

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tqk (profile) says:

Re: transparency..

where did i hear that discussed by a politician not too long ago where it was also completely untrue?

Was that Jesus, Moses, Noah, Eve, …

You’d think the Brits ought to know how to do this by now. They don’t like the existing law, so they send it to a committee, they do some research, propose a replacement, pull the old law and stick its replacement in its place, lather, rinse, repeat.

Or, they’re just being tyrants and treating their constituents like one enormously annoying bother which isn’t worth their time once the election is over. What a racket.

Anonymous Coward says:

what is more frightening than anything is we voted these politicians into office to do what is best for us but we are the last ones on the list of being looked after. and when the time comes for reelection, the people are so used to being screwed into the ground, from having nothing, they vote the fuckers back into office!! scarey!! very scarey!!

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The sad thing is once you get to about your sixth decade, you’ve seen them pull this before over and over again so it’s no surprise. Twenty-somethings are too young to have even noticed it happening (they’re too busy growing up).

I can guarantee the pattern will repeat. The only rosy spot in this is old people tend to care about voting. The young, not so much. On the other hand, the youngsters aren’t the ones staring Alzheimers in the face.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Predictable

Freedom of Information

“Always dispose of the awkward bit in the title; it does less harm there than in the text”
– Sir Humphrey Appleby

“Ministry Of Truth”, the propaganda ministry — 1984.

They’re into outright spitting on the citizenry these days. They can’t be bothered with trying to hide the truth with lies anymore. We’re all such a tedious bore to them now, more than ever, or that’s how it looks to me.

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