Tuesday, July 11, 2006

FOI and Open Government books

The following books recently published may of interest to users and practitioners of FOI, I've reviewed each one briefly. Fuller reviews (by different reviewers) will appear in the next issue of Open Government .

Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age
By Alasdair Roberts (Camridge University Press)
Order from Amazon
Alasdair Roberts may be well known to the readers of the blog for his academic research and comment on FOI and Access to Information laws worlwide, especially Canada. Since 2005 he also taken an interest in the operation of the UK Act and Access to Information Clearing House in particular. The book is a very welcome addition to the other books on FOI on my bookshelf and is an excellent balance of well researched academic material (mainly secondary) combined with a very accessible style. The book does draw in perspectives from a philosphical/theoretical angle when relevant, but it doesn't dominate or reduce the readabilty. The book uses case studies and examples from around the world to assess case for FOI/openess legislation, reviews the way legislation operates and the problems that have emerged when those in authrority try prevent the release of information and circumvent openess laws. The book reflects on issues of openess compared to security in the post 9-11 world and discusses Bush Govt's management and control of information. This also a book that focuses on the future - looking at issues related to other quasi governemtal bodies (e.g. IMF), organisations and private sector bodies carrying out public functions and how they often operate beyond legislative provisions. The book has a practical value for requestors, the chapter "liquid paper" will be of particular interest: Al shows some of his methodology for making requests for information in the eletronic age; for metadata in electronic document and records management systems and how to compare the information to build up new patterns of government activity. This is not the first book for you to pick up if you want to learn in detail about differences about FOI regimes around the world - but it is a highly readible, well researched overview of about openess in the world today, why it is important and where it may be going - it raises vital questions that future generations will need to address. I would highly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in FOI and would say it would easily find a place on most reading lists in politics, govt and journalism depts.

Open Government in a Theoretical and Practical Context
Richard A. Chapman (Editor), Michael Hunt (Editor)
Order from Amazon
This text is a UK focused collection of chapters based on revised versions of papers given to PAC workshop on FOI held at Durham University April 2005. The text brings together a mix of academics, civil servants and a Peer. As the workshop took place in April 2005, some of the papers do have a slightly dated feel in when refecting on the Act itself as we now have over a years' worth of case law to now reflect on. Chapters 1-5 are well written and sum up well the case for FOI, the benefits and the historical background at Central and Local levels. Of greater interest to me were the chapters that focus on some more original areas of interaction with FOI and the accountability debate: the Hutton inquiry, the role of special advisors and the perspective from the Committee on Standards in public life. Richard Chapman's paper on the Hutton Inquiry is very good distillation of the key issues from the Inquiry but I was looking for some greater linkage with the wider context post-Hutton - for example the paper makes no reference to the "Final report of the independent review of government communications" by Bob Phillis that followed later in 2003, directlty influenced by Hutton that called for further changes to the FOIA to be made. As with Al Roberts' text the book also provides a forward thinking aspect, considering the impact and challenges of information technology in the paper by Taylor et al. Whilst some of the chapters run over familiar ground many of the papers in this text offer some fresh perpsctives on the topic from well respected authors.

Freedom of Information: Balancing the Public Interest (Second Edition)
by Megan Carter and Andrew Bouris, May 2006,
Report: 327 pp. + CD, £75
Order from UCL
This text will be of greatest interest to practitioners, it is a vastly updated second edition that draws upon an excellent depth of research about FOI legislation around the world (where relevant parallels can be drawn with the UK legislation). Consideration of the "public interest test" is one of the most difficult aspects of handling requests - many competing interests - internally and externally will present a case for the PI to withhold or release. An increasingly larger percentrage of decisions being issued by the UK ICO and OSIC have a public interest aspect. This text focuses this aspect of FOI by analysing both the UK and Scottish legislation and current (limited) case law from both Commissioners and then presents the operation of PI aspects of the legislation of the following countries (and States when different FOI laws apply): Ireland, Australia, NZ, Canada. There is a highly detailed and exhasutive approach taken to referencing and neatly summarising aspects and implications of the PI legislation and related case law. Whilst it is up to the practitioner to assess how relevant these examples may be to the context of their work, in general I would argue that the text is very useful tool to draw upon when the PI aspect not covered yet by UK case law or fresh perspective may help inform internal debate. I would also add this book might useful to those using the Act needing to develop detailed arguments for PI release at internal review, appeal to IC or tribunal. My main comment would be that the text could offer greater tabulation to enable greater cross comparison of some aspects of the legislation covered and a comparison section drawing together and discussing the PI issues covered and common themes.

Also see the books section of the blog for more books about FOI and Open Government

No comments: