Thursday, September 30, 2010

Open Government Licence enables re-use of information

The National Archives
30 September 2010
The National Archives is today launching a new Open Government Licence, which makes it faster and easier than ever before to re-use public sector information.

The UK Open Government Licence is a key element of the Government's commitment to greater transparency. It provides a single set of terms and conditions for anyone wishing to use or license government information and removes some of the existing barriers to re-use.

Developers and entrepreneurs wishing to use government data to create new websites and applications will no longer need to register or formally apply for permission to re-use the data. The new licence is interoperable with other internationally recognised licensing models, such as Creative Commons.

Bringing information to life

Commenting on the launch of the new licence, Lord McNally, Minister for The National Archives and Public Sector Information, said: 'The National Archives isn't simply a repository of our nation's history, its task is to bring information to life, make it accessible and enable its re-use. This innovative licence gives everyone the opportunity to create products and services which benefit society.'

The licence covers a broad range of public sector information, including Crown Copyright, databases and source codes and can be used across the entire public sector.  It is published today in a machine-readable format on the Information management section of The National Archives website.

To support the UK Open Government Licence, The National Archives has developed the UK Government Licensing Framework which sets out the Government's overall policy on licensing and the re-use of public sector information.
See also:
http://data.gov.uk/blog/new-open-government-license

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FOI Act shines a torch on public services, says Information Commissioner

ICO Press release
28 September 2010

“Freedom of Information has a key role to play in helping to deliver greater transparency and accountability. These are key priorities in public policy”, says Information Commissioner Christopher Graham in a message to mark International Right to Know Day.

International Right to Know Day is designed to raise awareness of individuals’ rights to access information held by public authorities and gain better understanding of how public money is spent.

Christopher Graham says: “Freedom of Information shines a torch into the dark corners of public service, identifying wasted money and duplication of effort. Freedom of Information must have paid for itself many times over in the beneficial impact it has had on reducing unnecessary spending – and that contribution can only increase in the years ahead.

“Organisations, whether public or private, need to invest in information rights - whether it’s Freedom of Information, good records management, or data protection. Where organisations fall down on their information rights obligations they do so at the cost of destroying citizen and consumer trust.”

Under the Freedom of Information Act, public authorities are required to operate a Publication Scheme. Under this scheme authorities must produce a guide to the information they hold and are encouraged to publish as much information as possible as a matter of routine.

Christopher Graham continues: “In the current circumstances of reduced budgets and increased concern for transparency and accountability, information rights are a front line service, not a mere back office function. We all have to do more for less, but much is expected of all of us working in the information rights field.”

Over the past 12 months, Decision Notices by the ICO have ordered the disclosure of the Youth Justice Board Physical Control in Care Prison Service manual, details of bonuses received by the City of London Police Force and information relating to the amount the BBC spends on taxi booking services.

“These headline successes by the ICO are only part of the story,” says Mr Graham. “More and more, public authorities are volunteering to publish information without being ordered to do so by the Information Commissioner. That means less money is being wasted on long drawn out investigations and appeals.”

Ends

http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/pressreleases/2010/irtk_day_280910.pdf

Monday, September 27, 2010

Freedom of Information - What Difference has it Made?

The Scottish Information Commissioner hosted an event at the Scottish Parliament's Festival of Politics event on the impact that FOI has had in Scotland.

This event brought together a range of people who have actively used Scotland's FOI laws and who have achieved significant successes as a result. Participants included Michelle Stewart of the C Diff Justice Group, Bill Scott from the disabled persons' organisation Inclusion Scotland and Sandy Longmuir, founder of the Scottish Rural Schools Network. Each discussed how FOI has enabled them to access important information which would almost certainly have been inaccessible prior to 2005 - information which has gone on to play a pivotal role in their wider campaigning activity.

You can listen to recordings of all the presentations from 'Freedom of Information - what difference has it made?' on the Scottish Information Commissioner's website at: www.itspublicknowledge.info/FestivalOfPolitics

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Central government FOI statistics April-June 2010

The quarterly Freedom of Information statistics for central government have been published for April to June 2010. The Department of Health continued its good record on timeliness, managing to respond to 98% of requests within the standard 20 working day deadline for the 3rd quarter in succession. The Treasury also answered 97% of requests within 20 working days. Overall, timeliness by government departments seems to be steadily improving - departments answered 83% of requests in 20 days in Q2 of 2010 compared to 79% in Q1 of 2010, 76% in Q4 of 2009 and 75% in Q3 of 2009. The MoD still lags behind on 64%, though this is an improvement on its 50% in Q1 of 2010.
Executive summary [see Table 1 and Table A]
Across all monitored bodies, a total of 10,286 requests were received - an increase of 3 per cent on the second quarter of 2009 (Q2).

95 per cent of requests received had been processed at the time of monitoring.

Departments of State reported receiving 6,339 “non-routine” information requests during the Q2 of 2010 – an increase of 10 per cent on the second quarter of 2009. Other monitored bodies received 3,947 requests – a decrease of 6 per cent compared to the second quarter of 2009.

There were 296 requests handled under the amended Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) which came into force on 1 January 2005 – an increase of 57 percent compared to the same quarter in 2009 although a decrease of 18 per cent compared to the previous quarter.

Timeliness [see Table 2 and Table B]
During Q2 of 2010, 90 per cent of all monitored bodies’ requests (excluding those “on hold” or lapsed) were “in time”, in that they were processed within the statutory deadline or were subject to a permitted deadline extension. This is higher than in the previous quarter and the corresponding quarter of 2009.

Figures for individual Departments of State ranged from 69 per cent (Ministry of Defence) to 100 per cent (Department of Health and Department for Culture, Media and Sport). For the 20 Departments of State who received more than 20 requests in the quarter, 12 processed more than 90 per cent of requests “in time”.

Outcomes [see Table 3 and Table C]
Of all “resolvable” requests received during Q2 of 2010 (i.e. requests where it was possible to make a substantive decision on whether to release the information being sought), 58 per cent were granted in full, higher than both the previous quarter and the corresponding quarter of 2009.

Figures for individual Departments of State ranged from 31 per cent (Ministry of Justice) to 81 per cent (Department for Education). However, caution should be taken in reading too much into these differences as it at least in part reflects the nature of requests received. For example, Ministry of Justice receives a large number of requests which relate to individual court cases which are exempt under the Act and therefore with-held in full.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CampaignFOI on Twitter

Just to let readers of the blog know, in case you haven't spotted, you can now follow the Campaign for Freedom of Information on Twitter - http://twitter.com/CampaignFoI

Minister confirms timetable for academies complying with FOI Act

In response to a parliamentary question, Nick Gibb, Minister of State at the Department for Education, has confirmed that the FOI Act will apply to schools converting to academies from September 2010 and to existing academies from January 2011. Academies were brought under the Act by Paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 of the Academies Act 2010
Philip Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Education for what reasons academies are not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [8620]

Jake Berry: To ask the Secretary of State for Education whether he plans to make academy schools subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [11456]

Mr Gibb: Academies are currently not subject to the provision of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000. However, the Academies Act 2010 includes a provision that extends the FOI Act to academy trusts. The FOI Act applies to academy trusts of maintained schools converting to academies from September 2010 and to academy trusts of existing academies from January 2011.
Hansard Written Answers 16 September 2010.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

ICO discloses "Line to Take" policy documents

The Information Commissioner's Office has recently disclosed all of its "Lines to Take" policy documents which set out how the ICO approaches certain types of Freedom of Information complaints. The disclosure follows a request by Alex Skene, a volunteer who helps maintain the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website.

There are 177 documents in total, which were disclosed in 6 PDF files. However, Alex has helpfully made them available in a more structured, searchable and easier to use manner via the FOI wiki he hosts:

http://foiwiki.com/foiwiki/index.php/LTT

Relevant LTTs can also be accessed via their associated FOI Act exemption page, eg http://foiwiki.com/foiwiki/index.php/Section41.


The documents are a fantastic resource for FOI requesters and public authorities alike.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions course

The Campaign for Freedom of Information is running the following half-day training course:
 
Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions - what do they mean in practice?

London 30 November 2010

The course, which is aimed at those with a good working knowledge of the legislation, highlights the latest developments in the way the main exemptions, the public interest test and the legislation's procedural requirements are being interpreted.

It will cover the most significant decisions that have been issued since our last course in June 2010. The content will therefore vary depending on the cases that have been decided, but the course typically addresses issues such as: "fair" and "unfair" disclosures of personal data; the FOI/EIR border, the application of specific exemptions; where the public interest line is being drawn; vexatious requests; the cost limit, advice & assistance and other administrative provisions.

The course will be presented by the Campaign's director, Maurice Frankel, who has worked in the field for 27 years. Significant discounts are available for multiple bookings from the same organisation.

Further information:
http://www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/foidecisions_nov10.pdf

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scottish Information Commissioner launches consultation on publication schemes

The Scottish Information Commissioner is consulting on a fresh approach to publication schemes.
The Commissioner is seeking views on a proposal to introduce a single model publication scheme, suitable for adoption by all Scottish public authorities. The new approach would require authorities to formally notify the Commissioner that they had adopted the model, and to produce a detailed guide to information, to help the public find publications.  It is proposed that the Commissioner's staff would focus their effort on monitoring compliance with the model. Authorities who felt they could not adopt the single model would be invited to submit their reasons to the Commissioner for consideration.
The consultation is aimed at:

  • public authorities who must comply with the duty to adopt a publication scheme;
  • members of the public who may use schemes to access published information; and
  • anyone with a general interest.

Download the consultation paper and response form with consultation questions here. NOTE: you must complete the 'Consultation Response Form' and submit this with your consultation questions responses.

Responses must be sent to Sarah Hutchison, Head of Policy and Information, Scottish Information Commissioner's Office, Kinburn Castle, St Andrews KY16 9DS, or email to publicationschemes@itspublicknowledge.info

The deadline for responses is 29 October 2010.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Tom Brake MP introduces Ten Minute Rule Bill to strengthen FOI Act

The Lib Dem MP Tom Brake yesterday introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. The Bill would remove the ministerial veto; extend the time limit for prosecutions under section 77 of the Act for deliberately destroying or altering a record to prevent disclosure; limit the time allowed for public authorities to respond to requests involving consideration of the public interest; and extend the definition of public authorities to include publicly owned companies where 51% or more of the shares are owned by one or more public authorities, publicly funded "not for dividend" companies, and private contractors delivering high-value public sector contracts.

The Bill will now be printed and receive a second reading in the Commons on 12 November 2010.

Read the Hansard debate here.

Monday, September 06, 2010

R4 You and Yours on Blair Memoirs and FOI

This afternoon's You and Yours on BBC Radio 4 discussed Tony Blair's comments about Freedom of Information in his memoirs. Maurice Frankel director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information was interviewed for the programme.

You can listen to the programme again here. The FOI feature starts about 46.50 mins in.

Tomorrow (7 September 2010) Call You and Yours will be discussing the Freedom of Information Act and wants to hear from people who have used it. Lord McNally will also be on the programme. Call 03 700 100 400 or use the contact form on the website to contact the programme. The programme is at 12:00 pm BBC Radio 4 (FM only).

The Blair Memoirs and FOI

This article published by the Campaign for Freedom of Information discusses Tony Blair's criticism of freedom of information in his memoirs. Although Mr Blair says his views are based on experience of FOI in practice, the Campaign says it is clear that his hostility began well before the legislation was passed. It points out that Mr Blair himself links his criticism of FOI to his realisation that it could help expose Labour's own scandals.