Friday, February 11, 2011

Campaign welcomes FOI changes in Protection of Freedoms Bill but calls for them to be extended

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has welcomed the changes to the Freedom of Information Act set out in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, published today.

Requiring public authorities to publish data sets proactively, under the ‘publication schemes’ that all authorities are required to have under the Act, was a positive step, the Campaign said. It was also helpful that when applying for datasets applicants would be entitled to specify that they be released in a reusable electronic format. The Campaign said that should prevent authorities deliberately turning a spreadsheet into a pdf, before releasing it, to stop requesters running their own analyses of the spreadsheet itself.

However, the Campaign said the Act’s provisions on the form in which information should be released needed further improvements, to allow requesters to specify that they wanted photocopies of original documents. At present, requesters can only express preference between obtaining information in hard copy or electronic form or inspecting records but are not entitled to specify that they want photocopies of actual correspondence or documents.

The new Bill also seeks to prevent authorities invoking copyright to prevent requesters republishing datasets released under the Act, where the authority is the copyright holder. The Campaign said this was a positive step which should be extended beyond datasets. Authorities frequently insist that requesters apply to them for a copyright license to reproduce information about the authorities’ own policies and performance. It said this was an unnecessary restriction which obstructs the use of information which has no commercial value to the authorities themselves.

The Campaign also welcomed the decision to bring companies that are jointly owned by several public authorities under the Act.

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