Friday, May 28, 2004

Third of bodies see trouble ahead with FOI.

E-government bulletin

Almost a third (29 per cent) of UK public sector bodies foresee
difficulties in fulfilling their obligations under freedom of information
law due to come into force in January 2005, according to new research
published today in E-Government Outlook 2004-05

Thursday, May 27, 2004

New book on UK Freedom of Information Act

A new book that may interest blog readers, written by Kelvin Smith (Nationa Archives), I'll post a review when I get a copy.

Order from Amazon:
Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide

This book takes its title very seriously. It is a practical guide to the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Its combination of descriptions, checklists, models and practical examples will enable all those involved in the discharge of this important enactment to do so without fear or worry. Written by an expert at the National Archives, it avoids describing Freedom of Information in legal terms and instead focuses on implementation of the Act from a user's point of view; pointing the reader to those parts of it which will affect implementation procedures. Time is running out in the countdown to full implementation of the Act by January 2005 so this guide provides all the information need to ensure efficient and speedy compliance with the Act. It covers both preparing for implementation (staffing infrastructure, action planning, records management and training) and actual implementation (use of ICT, logging systems and handling requests). The book also includes an examination of how FOI links with other legislation such as data protection and human rights. Full of checklists and toolkits, the book also comes with free, downloadable training materials. This is essential reading for all in public services work, particularly those involved in customer enquiries, record keeping and policy making.
Campaign for FOI urges MPs to sign Early Day Motion

"The Campaign has written to all MPs urging them to sign a Parliamentary motion calling on the Government to honour commitments on fees under the FOI Act made by ministers in Parliament. You can help by asking your MP to sign the motion too."

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Early Day Motion on FOI charges

The following Early Day Motion has been submitted by Mark Fisher MP (and signed by others) in the House of Commons:

Tony Wright
Helen Jackson
Mr Archy Kirkwood
Mr David Heath
Mr Richard Shepherd
Mr John Greenway

Mr Mark Fisher
That this House notes with concern that the Government is considering introducing substantially higher fees for obtaining information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 than those promised by ministers during its Parliamentary passage; considers that high fees would deter the public from using the Act and undermine the potential benefits of increased openness, accountability and trust in the work of public authorities; and calls on the Government to honour the firm and consistent commitment on charges repeatedly made to this House during consideration of the Freedom of Information legislation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Constitutional Affairs Committee: The work of the information commissioner

Evidence from Tuesday 11 May 2004 has now been published on the UK Parliament website The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas answers questions from MP about the Freedom of Information Act.

New BT software for Freedom Of Information compliance

Press release: BT website

Privasoft, one of the big players in the Canadian FOIA software market, have teamed up with BT:

"The new BT Case Manager system supports the entire information request procedure, from the initial enquiry to the production of final documentation. It allows public sector organisations to comply cost-effectively with so called 'access to information' (ATI) legislation, such as the FoI and Data Protection Acts. The package also enables users to deliver a consistent, high quality customer service by avoiding costly errors or time delays."
Reid blocked freedom of information on Powderject, says watchdog

Guardian 25th May

"The parliamentary ombudsman has expressed deep disappointment at the failure of John Reid, the health secretary, to comply with her rulings on freedom of information.
Ann Abraham said that Mr Reid's department's refusal to disclose information on the way Paul Drayson, the Labour donor recently given a peerage, also obtained a government contract for his pharmaceuticals firm was a "matter of great concern".

Monday, May 24, 2004

Scottish IC orders release of confidential contract

"In his first major act heading Scotland’s new independent public information watchdog, Kevin Dunion, a confidante of Jack McConnell, the First Minister, recently ordered the Executive to disclose details of its confidential contract with Reliance after it was criticised for accidentally releasing seven prisoners from custody, including a murderer."

The Scotsman 21st May

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Letter for your MP: proposed FOI charges

Here is a letter to post or fax to your MP regarding the proposed charges. Please support the lobby campaign. Feel free to ammend in anyway you like.

foia lobby may04.doc

There will be questions and an Early Day Motion on the issue this week in the House of Commons. I will keep you posted.

A Parliamentary question on the matter was asked lasy week by Llew Smith MP (Labour) :"To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, what decisions he has reached on the appropriate charging regime for requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000" Answer not yet available.

Conference Report: Access to Information,London , 12th May

The Conference Proceeding are now available online
Well worth a look, especially if you did not attend the conference. In addition to this information, here is a brief report from my perspective:

The "Access to Information" conference has definitely found a place as an annual FOI event already, even though it is has only been running two years. The conference was well attended and can be recommended for the networking opportunities alone.

The day was useful in two different ways - the morning gave a perspective on overseas FOI and the role of the separate legislation governing environmental information whilst the afternoon was focused upon the official work of Andrew MacDonald at DCA and Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner. A quick summary of some of interesting points that arose.

The New Zealand ombudsman Judge Anand Satyanand who takes the role similar to the Information Commissioner in NZ made the opening speech and offered an important insight into the 20 years experience of New Zealand related to FOI. The insight he offered should encourage more FOI practioners to look at NZ as well as the more obvious egs such as Ireland, Australia and Canada. New Zealand has some different terminology for FOI but has many broadly similar features (see his slides at the URL above). Interesting he revealed that the Ministerial veto has never been used in NZ, he explained how his role as NZ Ombudsman has been to try to reach consensus solutions. His concept of looking at information released was interesting: he talked of pre and post decisional information requests, pre going to government departments formulating policy and post going to departments implementing policy (e.g regulatory). Interestingly, due the wide range of MPs in the proportionally represented parliament and their needs for information, MPs and their parties are heavy users of the Act as a tool for building evidence.

Lord Filkin the Minister at DCA responsible for FOI spoke in the morning, primarily it seems to encourage work on implementation. Key phrase was: "we can now see the whites of the eyes of the Act". He left most of the important announcements to the afternoon.

The work of Alasdair Roberts as the University of Syracuse, NY is fascinating, and his use of the Canadian FOI Act in his research is well worth reading on the slides for download. He researched the way Canadian departments, tag and monitor requests using electronic request management systems and subsequently use briefing systems to "spin" any negative impacts.

I also encourage all FOI practioners to think if they have not done so yet about the Environmental Information Regulations. The speech given by Jayne Boyes was informative in making clear where they boundaries lie with FOIA 2000. All very neatly summed up in her paper and the case studies available for download. The key message is that EIRs are in force now and are far more "open" in the ways information can be released and require careful management alongside FOIA 2000.

In the afternoon, as well as request workshops in which we worked through fictional request scenarios, the main focus was on Andrew McDonald who outlined the DCA timetable for FOI implementation. The key parts I've already outlined on the blog:

May - monitoring systems (Central Government), systems requirement and training guide
June - new FOI website, e-network for practioners and FOI brand
July - central government guidance (first edition)
Aug -fees order

Since then we've had the discussion about the nature of the fees order to be published in August.

Richard Thomas gave an excellent speech to round off the conference, outlining the importance of FOI, his role and put forward his perception of the Act; not being as weak as often perceived. One interesting bit of news was that he has started legal proceedings against Allerdale Council over missing the publication scheme deadline- a slight bearing of teeth perhaps.

Anyway, an excellent day, well done to the Constitution Unit for organising it. The above is not meant be a comprehensive overview, just a few highlights.


Friday, May 21, 2004

Proposed UK FOI charges -lobby your MP

Since the Guardian has broken the story about the proposed increases in FOI charging I have decided to publish documents that the story has been based on. I am doing so in order for people to see the proposed changes for themself in full.

Wkg Group Recs - Treasury comments.doc
Working Group recs - ICO comments.doc

My own personal view is that these changes could have an immense impact on use of FOI by individuals and organisations. Costs on information will act as a barrier - the evidence from Ireland and Australia that I have posted on serveral ocassions backs this view.

I therefore urge you all to write to your MP to press for these changes not to be made. I will in the next few days post a letter you can download. Alternatively you can also use the Fax Your MP service to lobby direct

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

UK FOI charges story spreads abroad

"British freedom of information is costly": The Washington Post has picked up the UK FOI charging story

Also also RTE in Ireland

New guidance: exemptions relating to Court Records and Audit Functions.

IC website:
FOI Internal Guidance - Audit exemption

Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Tendering
Are You Ready
15th July (Central London), 30th November 2004 (Manchester) 9th December 2004 (Birmingham)

More details (word document)
FOI means IT integration work

Public sector under pressure to prepare IT systems for demands of Freedom of Information Act

IT week 17/5/04
Slump in Irish FoI requests after 'reform'

"OMBUDSMAN Emily O'Reilly is expected to deliver a scathing midterm review of the consequences of the Government's "reform" of the Freedom of Information Act"

Sunday Independent (Ireland)
Treasury accused as cost of information soars

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
Tuesday May 18, 2004 The Guardian

"The Treasury is being accused of attempting to sabotage the Freedom of Information Act, which comes into force in January, by introducing such big fees to find documents that most people will not have the money to apply."

According to this article, it appears that changes will be made to the draft fees regulations, the full version will appear in August. Judging from the Irish experience this could have an impact (likely to be negative) on the use of the Act

Thursday, May 13, 2004

More than 50 countries now have guaranteed their citizens the right to know

More than 50 countries now have guaranteed their citizens the right to know what their government is up to, and more than half of these freedom of information laws passed in the last decade, according to an updated global survey posted today on the Web by the virtual network of openness advocates,

Four countries have adopted new freedom of information laws just since the last edition of the survey was posted in September 2003. The global survey released today was compiled and edited for by David Banisar of the University of Leeds and Privacy International as the third in his series on the site, and includes links to the texts of laws and concise commentary on their effectiveness or lack thereof.

The site is edited by a multinational volunteer Editorial Board, and is hosted and staffed by George Washington University's National Security Archive , the leading non-profit user and advocate of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Grants from the Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation underwrite the site.

Please follow the link below for the full report:
Companies could have to reveal confidential data

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, warned yesterday that information about private companies held by public bodies, which would previously have been treated as confidential, may have to be released in response to requests for information made under the Freedom of Information Act, when it comes fully into force next January. Mr Thomas said that the increasing use of private sector organisations in the delivery of public services made it inevitable that the full implementation of the Act would not just affect public bodies. Although the disclosure of information relating to private companies can be denied on the grounds that it could prejudice commercial interests, this can be overridden if the information is considered to be of sufficient public interest.

Financial Times, p3, 12 May
Access to Information conference

The conference yesterday was an excellent event, with some great speakers. I will post a full conference report on the blog in a few days. In the meantime it is worth summarising the main points that emerged about the DCA timetable for implementation:

The DCA timeline:

May - monitoring systems (Central Government), systems requirement and training guide
June - new FOI website, e-network for practioners and FOI brand
July - central government guidance (first edition)
Aug -fees order

Richard Thomas (information Commissioner) and Lord Falcolner appeared on Radio 4 "Today" programme yesterday to talk about FOI: listen here

Also see.....

Press release
Ministerial freedom of information vetoes must be open to public scrutiny
says Information Commissioner
12th May 2004

IC website

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Computer Weekly Special report: FOI

FOI features in this week's Computer Weekly special report (p46 hard copy). Contains some useful examples of how Councils are tackling FOI from an IT perspective.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Health Canada wins 4th annual Code of Silence Award

"VANCOUVER, The Canadian Association of Journalists has awarded Health Canada its fourth annual Code of Silence Award, whichecognizes the most secretive government department in Canada."

Canada newswire

Local papers start to get interested in FOI

Some interest is now emerging at local level. Examples: Grimsby, Torquay

Friday, May 07, 2004

West Sussex County Council Freedom of Information Day

West Sussex County Council, in association with Public Sector Forums, is holding a Freedom of Information Day at Chichester College on 6th July.

The day will comprise a series of case studies and round table discussions, and attendance is free to the public sector.

It's early days so I am still in the process of confirming speakers, but so far we have:
* Mike Coleman, Cabinet Member for Information Services, West Sussex County Council
* Rob Mechan, Information Commissioners Office
* Maurice Frankel, Director, The Campaign for Freedom of Information
* Richard Childs, County Archivist, West Sussex County Council
Topics to be covered include:
* The implications of the Freedom of Information Act
* The Campaign for Freedom of Information: How can you prepare yourselves to handle the media?
* Case study: Moving an organisation from total apathy to having systems in place
* Case study: West Sussex County Council
* Case study: Wiltshire & Swindon Fire Service
* Case study: the NHS & FoI


"Access to Information" conference next week in London (12th)

Are you going to "access to information next week"? I would be interested to meet with any Blog readers who are attending

Also - would anyone would be willing to write a short review for the blog

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Information Commissioner's research into FOI (and DPA) awareness

Current research projects, IC website

"Annual Tracking Research: The Information Commissioner’s Office is currently conducting its annual tracking research. The research aims to track awareness and understanding of the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act amongst individuals, data controllers and public authorities, and will be used to inform the Office’s communication strategy.

The Office has commissioned two market research agencies, Queastor Research and Marketing Strategists Ltd and Marketprobe Europe Ltd to undertake the research on our behalf. Both agencies are independent market research companies which adhere to the Market Research Society’s Code of Conduct.

The information provided by respondents will be treated as private and confidential, with individual responses remaining anonymous."

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

US FOIA fees

An interesting article about FOIA fees in the US from a lawyer perspective (originally posted on

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Newspaper Society FOI Survey

Details from UK Press Gazette, will post more details when I get them:

"A culture of official secrecy is entrenched throughout Britain?s public services, claim regional newspaper editors. According to the initial findings of a survey carried out by the Newspaper Society, official bodies routinely use data protection as an excuse to withhold information and hide behind press officers. Courts make unnecessary reporting restrictions and there is scepticism about the ability of public authorities to comply with the Freedom of Information Act when it comes into force next year. Editors have also reported secrecy issues surrounding new-style council cabinets. Mike Glover, editor of the Westmorland Gazette, said: The culture of secrecy and anonymity is rampant. The real problem for the media is that the public at large is sympathetic with this tide. All the debate is driven by high-profile national examples of intrusion. The public at large doesn?t understand the impact that secrecy and privacy have on their community newspapers. The Newspaper Society press freedom survey concludes on May 9. The full findings are expected to be released later in the year"
FOI Scotland: training pack

Trainers Pack for those delivering training for the FOI (Scotland Act

Useful document, very detailed, useful to those outside of Scotland as well
Watchdog Fears Government Unready for Information Act

The Government is not properly prepared for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, the head of the committee on standards in public life warned today.

“I think that could be the start of a restoration of trust if it is done properly,” he said.

But speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One he said: “My worry is I’m not convinced that central government and other public bodies are as well prepared for this latest legal development as they should be.”

Sir Alistair said the full implementation of the act would represent a “milestone” in open decision-making. But he urged ministers to look at their own departments to ensure they were ready.

Source: the Scotsman

Bath Chronicle: 01 May 2004

FOI starts to make a mark at local level:

"Council chief executive John Everitt has pledged that the results of an inquiry into the spiralling costs of Bath's spa project will be made public. An internal audit is under way looking at how a scheme originally budgeted to cost £13.5m is now heading for the £30m mark. Cllr Watt had asked Mr Everitt to confirm that the confidentiality agreement would not hinder the audit. He also asked whether the full report would be passed to councillors as soon as it was available and if, subject to the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the report's contents would be made public."