Campaign for FOI Objects to UK Government Proposals

21 December 2012

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in the United Kingdom Dec. 18 issued a statement objecting that government plans to amend the Freedom of Information Act “would make it harder for requesters to obtain answers to new, complex or contentious FOI requests.”

As explained by the Campaign:

The government is proposing to make it easier for public authorities to refuse time-consuming requests. At the moment, authorities can refuse requests if they estimate that the cost of finding and extracting the information exceeds certain limits. The government wants to allow them to also include the cost of considering the request and deleting exempt information.

The government in November responded to proposals for FOI amendments made in July by a parliamentary committee.

Including “thinking time” in the cost calculations will increase the likelihood of refusals on the basis of cost, said the Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel in a press release.

“The longer an authority needs to think about a request, the greater the chance of it being able to refuse to answer on cost grounds. Requests involving unfamiliar, complex or contentious issues all of which require substantial ‘thinking time’ would be likely to be refused under these proposals. This would prevent the Act from dealing with difficult issues or breaking new ground.”

The Campaign further objected to a government proposal to allow the cost of unrelated requests made by the same individual or organization to be aggregated for purposes of deciding if the total cost exceeds set limits, currently £600 for government departments or £450 for other authorities.

The government’s suggestion that charges might be made for appealing to the Information Rights Tribunal also is objectionable, the Campaign said.

On the other hand, the Campaign “welcomed the government’s decision not to introduce charges for FOI requests or to introduce additional exemptions to protect cabinet papers or sensitive policy discussions.”

The Campaign said it is disappointed that the government rejected proposals to tighten up the time limits for responding to FOI requests or to require authorities to publish their statistics on compliance with FOI time limits.

Timeliness s Reviews Under Way

The Information Commissioner’s Office Dec. 21 said it will monitor four agencies for three months of 2013 over concerns about the timeliness of their responses to Freedom of Information requests.

The ICO will monitor the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) in Northern Ireland and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.

Open Data Report Cards

In other British news, the government announced how departments did on fulfilling open data commitments.

The average score was 52 percent, but the rates varied widely, according to an article about the report.

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