Thursday, June 15, 2006

ICO Policy on Publication Schemes

The ICO has published a new policy on publications schemes.

Also read the press release (PDF)

"A Publication Scheme is both a public commitment to make certain information available and a guide to how that information can be obtained. All publication schemes have to be approved by the Information Commissioner’s Office and should be reviewed by authorities periodically to ensure they are accurate and up to date."

Publication schemes are very much in need of some reviewing, for those how haevn't come across them they are the proactive release part of the FOIA listed in S19 and haven't often received much attention. I have only ever heard of one case of a public authority being reported to the ICO for not having a publication scheme. In another case back in 2004 Heather Brooke complained to the ICO about the PPP contracts for the tube being listed in the Transport for London Publication scheme but not being available.

Publication schemes were introduced in waves before the 2005 full implementation and many are dated and not fit for purpose given developments in web technology and increasing public awareness of access to information rights, whilst there are some pockets of best practice and review in operation. The Metropolitan Police being one good example. The Campaign FOI highlighted some issues of good and bad practice in a 2004 report. Personally I'm looking to a new view of publication schemes as dynamic web based documents that rapidly add new classes of information and focus on broad classes of availabilty not at individual document levels. I would also like to see acknowledgement of the role of disclosure logs.

The ICO's own research into publication schemes indicates:

-there is a low level of awareness of schemes within user groups and public authorities.
-authorities want clear guidance from the ICO on the content of schemes.
-they would also like simple clear guidance regarding the practical operation
of publication schemes.

In order to complete this work and enable authorities to develop their publication schemes against the new models, the Information Commissioner has decided that the time scale for re - approval for all sectors will be June 1 – 31 December 2008.

The ICO statement also makes reference to both publication schemes and the role of asset lists (presumably relating to information asset registers, they are defined in the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations and pracitioners have expressed concern about the overlap and relationship between the two)

The ICO have condcuted questionnaires and user groups on the subject - I'll look into seeing whether this data can be published.

On this subject: I have collated a lot of data on the use of publication schemes via webstats I've requested under FOIA, I've had the data for a while but hope to have something out on this soon.

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