Irish Government Advances Bill to Amend FOI Statute

2 August 2013

The Irish government has unveiled the text of its bill to change the Freedom of Information law, and while the expanded coverage and other provisions are generating applause from the pro-access community, one clause is raising eyebrows.

The provision says agencies should take “reasonable steps” to search electronic records, but would not be required “to take any step that involves the creation of anything for the purpose of searching for, or extracting, records that did not exist at the time of the making of the FOI request.”

Irish FOI advocate Gavin Sheridan was critical of this provision on Twitter as “vaguely phrased” and “going backwards.”

Irish Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, on RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland, said Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin had to “fight quite a battle” to make sure some public bodies were included.

It will apply to high-profile public bodies including the National Assets Management Agency  (NAMA), a government-backed financial body established to help bail out the Irish economy, and to a lesser degree the Central Bank of Ireland. A court in February ruled that NAM should be covered. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

In a statement, Howlin said the “restoration and extension of FoI is central to the delivery Government’s reform agenda to secure greater openness, transparency and accountability of public governance.”

Besides reversing restrictions added in 2003, the proposal “contains a number of important innovations to update, modernise and enhance Ireland’s FoI legislation,” he said, predicting passage in the fall.

O’Reilly said the proposal “speaks of a liberal and progressive” attitude to the release of public information, and also that the “devil will be in the detail” of implementation.

The provision on searching says:

17. Manner of access to records

(4) Where an FOI request relates to data which are contained in more than one record held on an electronic device by the FOI body concerned —

(a)  the FOI body shall not be required to take any step that involves the creation of anything for the purpose of searching for, or extracting, records that did not exist at the time of the making of the FOI request,

(b)  subject to paragraph (a), the FOI body shall take reasonable steps to search for and extract the records to which the request relates, having due regard to the steps that would be considered reasonable if the records were held in paper format, and whether or not such steps result in the creation of a new record,

(c)   if the reasonable steps referred to in paragraph (b) result in the creation of a new record, that record shall, for the purposes of considering whether or not such new record should be disclosed in response to the request, be deemed to have been created on the date of receipt of the FOI request,

(d) subject to this subsection, an FOI body is not required by this Act to take any steps by way of manipulation, analysis, compilation or other processing of any such records, or any data contained in records, held by the body.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags:

Filed under: What's New