FOI Supporters Organize Against UK Amendments

22 February 2013

Opponents of government proposals to amend the freedom of information law in the United Kingdom are organizing their campaign.

Plans include an online petition and efforts to lobby members of parliament, leaders of the opposition Campaign for Freedom of Information announced Feb. 18,

This and commentary on the proposals is contained in a report by Matt Burgess in FOI Directory and another, by Paul Gibbons, on FOI Man, and a posting by David Higgerson on his blog.

The objections were summarized by Higgersom this way:

The Campaign’s excellent Maurice Frankel delivered to succinct summary of the areas which should worry us. From a journalistic point of view, I picked up on the following proposal which should cause concern:

1. Reducing the time limit from 18 to 16 hours before a request can be rejected: Never good news to see the time cap reduced, but even more worrying when the following point is taken into consideration:

2. Allowing time for ‘considering’ FOI requests to be included in the 16/18 hour cap: This has the potential to effectively kill FOI. How on earth do you determine what counts as consideration?

3. Charging a flat fee to go to the Information Tribunal: This could be a flat fee of £80. You can argue that if you’ve gone to the trouble of appealing to the refusing authority, then to the Information Commissioner and still not got the answer you want, you’ll find £80 to go to the Tribunal. But that’s not the point. It’s another deterrent.

4. Asking contractors carrying out services for public authorities to operate under FOI voluntarily. Because they’ll all sign up to do that, won’t they? (I’ll do another blog on this later in the week).

5. Grouping FOI requests on different subjects but by similar people together so they can be treated as one. In theory, all local newspaper journalists going to the Home Office with FOI requests could be counted as one.

Number 2 is probably the most worrying. All of a sudden, FOI becomes less a piece of legislation where they assumption is that the information should be released, and more a piece of legislation where the assumption is that if an authority thinks about the request for long enough, the information won’t be released.

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