UK Foreign Office Bars Public From Attending Conference On How It Will Finally Release Illegally-Withheld Public Records

from the taking-the-'public'-out-of-'public-records' dept

The UK has a rule that nearly all government documents become public after a certain time has elapsed. But last year, it was revealed that the UK's Foreign Office had failed to release a huge store of older documents -- over a million of them:

The Foreign Office has unlawfully hoarded more than a million files of historic documents that should have been declassified and handed over to the National Archives, the Guardian has discovered.

The files are being kept at a secret archive at a high-security government communications centre in Buckinghamshire, north of London, where they occupy mile after mile of shelving.

Most of the papers are many decades old -- some were created in the 19th century -- and document in fine detail British foreign relations throughout two world wars, the cold war, withdrawal from empire and entry into the common market.

They have been kept from public view in breach of the Public Records Acts, which requires that all government documents become public once they are 30 years old -- a term about to be reduced to 20 years -- unless the department has received permission from the lord chancellor to hold them for longer. The secret archive is also beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.
Now that it has been forced to admit that it holds all these records of great historical -- and often great political -- interest, the Foreign Office is making them public at last. But as The Guardian reports, it seems it still doesn't quite get what that means:
The UK Foreign Office is holding a conference to explain how it will finally place into the public domain millions of public records that it has unlawfully held for decades -- but is refusing to allow members of the public to attend.
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  •  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 2:55am

    The UK Foreign Office is holding a conference to explain how it will finally place into the public domain millions of public records that it has unlawfully held for decades -- but is refusing to allow members of the public to attend.

    Sheer stupidity. The files will be public anyway. What are they expecting to hide? That they'll be using MS Access instead of a sturdy database system out of their own incompetence?

    When a Government abuses secrecy it tends to generate such hilarious yet worrying situations.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 3:44am

    That they'll be using MS Access instead of a sturdy database system out of their own incompetence?

    Electronic version will have to be created and cataloged by someone else, as the sturdy database is heavy duty shelving.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 5:32am

      Re:

      How's this for a plan:

      The entire archive is to be printed and scanned by a private company to get it into an electronic format suitable for public release.

      The scanned versions shall be considered derivative works with copyrights held by the private company.

      The private company agrees to not permit public release of their copyrighted works until the copyrights have expired.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        I'm_Having_None_Of_It, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 9:19am

        Re: Re:

        Is it bad that I can see that happening?

         

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        John Fenderson (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 9:46am

        Re: Re:

        I don't know about UK law, but with US law, this couldn't happen. There mere act of scanning documents doesn't give you a fresh copyright because it isn't transformative. For a fresh copyright, you need to alter the work in some meaningful way.

         

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        •  
          identicon
          Lawrence D’Oliveiro, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 4:07pm

          Re: but with US law, this couldn't happen

           

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            John Fenderson (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 9:03am

            Re: Re: but with US law, this couldn't happen

            Neither of those stories contradict what I have asserted. In the first one, the claim is that they did, in fact, alter the documents in a meaningful way. In the second, they're charging to search the records, not claiming copyright on the records themselves.

             

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 4:27am

    The is the British Foreign Office - they couldn't organise a party in Bangkok without corporate assistance.

     

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    beech, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 5:27am

    This just demonstrates what kind of chicanery happens when there is a CULTURE of secrecy in government. Just like with most of the US's classified documents, there is no reason for these documents to be kept secret, and no reason for the conference to be kept secret. Everything is kept secret for the sole reason that "we keep everything secret"

     

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      DogBreath, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 9:10am

      Re:

      There is a reason.

      Just as hotdog makers don't want you to see how it is made, because then you would never buy and eat it.

      Governments don't want you to see how government policy is made, because then you (and other countries they lie to on a daily basis) would never trust it.

       

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        John Fenderson (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 9:47am

        Re: Re:

        We already don't trust it, so there's nothing to lose.

         

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        •  
          identicon
          DogBreath, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 10:10am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Well, as President Abraham Lincoln once said:

          "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."

          I add to that something I think Mark Twain would have added:

          "And that is how politicians get elected, and re-elected."



          If history repeats itself, I believe we're doomed.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ux3DKxxFoM

           

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            John Fenderson (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 10:45am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Truthfully, I don't think the problem is who gets elected (and so I don't think we can solve our problem solely through elections).

            The problem is that when good people are elected, they are faced with a choice: stay pure and noble and be completely ineffective or play the corrupt game and be able to do at least some good along with the bad.

            The problem is the system itself is corrupt.

             

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              DogBreath, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 7:48pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              The problem is that when good people are elected, they are faced with a choice: stay pure and noble and be completely ineffective or play the corrupt game and be able to do at least some good along with the bad.

              I agree. Too bad that most politicians are nothing more than puppets on strings, and automatically without question dance at their so-called "benefactors" behest.

              As history has shown, even the little good a politician may have been lucky enough to get done, gets bastardized by some other puppets down the road, and nothing can be done to fix that... unless you get your own puppets elected.

               

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    identicon
    GEMont, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 11:37am

    Its a Family Affair

    Why would the general public be allowed to attend an auction of old but incriminating and politically sensitive documentary evidence of past misdeeds??

    Only the families of the criminals/politicians/business leaders, who are referred to in these documents need attend, along with their checkbooks.

     

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