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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2015 @ 11:36am

    transparency..

    where did i hear that discussed by a politician not too long ago where it was also completely untrue? surely someone here can jog my memory.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 28 Jun 2015 @ 2:41pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2015 @ 11:40am

    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!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 28 Jun 2015 @ 2:58pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2015 @ 11:47am

    There is a point where a gun replaces pen and paper (or email in this case) to secure the requests of the citizens. How long do leaders of our countries think people will continue to tolerate this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2015 @ 2:30pm

      Re:

      Look at World History... quite a long time is the answer.

      The real question the government asks, is how far the government can push it before a long time becomes not long at all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 28 Jun 2015 @ 3:02pm

      Re:

      You should be careful. Canada's parliament just passed a law that saying such things are punishable. They don't even need a judge to sign off on it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jilocasin (profile), 26 Jun 2015 @ 12:07pm

    I thought information wanted to be free.....

    Here I always thought...

    "Information wants to be free" /s


    };>

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2015 @ 1:56pm

    “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 26 Jun 2015 @ 3:33pm

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 28 Jun 2015 @ 3:12pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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