Open Rights Group submission to the DCA's initial Freedom of Information Act consultation - Submitted March 8th 2007
"Ministers are backtracking over plans to restrict the public's right to request official documents under the Freedom of Information Act, it emerged yesterday. The retreat follows opposition from MPs, the media and campaigners, who say the proposals would drastically curb the release of politically sensitive and controversial documents."
- Rob Evans, Friday March 30, 2007, The Guardian
Seems our submissions to the first-round consultation was not the only one to totally reject DCA's penny-pinching approach to public assess to state-materials. This is great news - feels like Government are not only listening, but actually responding as we suggest. We made 4 keys points to the initial consultation.
- Public consultations are welcome and worthwhile when evidence submitted is used as basis for policy formation.
- There is significant parliamentary opposition to the Proposed Regulations
- Financial cost is one of but not always the most important criteria by which to determine the validity of Freedom of Information requests. In this regard the public interest deserves equal status.
- No dramatic changes to this legislation should take place before users and the administration are fully acquainted with its operation.
The Supplementary consultation paper is thankfully brief, largely reiterating the original document. That information is summarised, together with links to useful resources and further reading, on our wiki page for the initial consultation.
Here's the new questions for you to comment on. Please feel free to add your musings and thoughts, even if they are not formally phrased. We have until 21st June to respond, but please let's start the dialogue now so we can develop as full a position as possible. We will be seeking expert input from the Advisory Council and other campaign groups working in this space, but your views are just as important in this process.
- 1 Do you agree that the FOI Fees Regulations should be amended to deal with the problem of disproportionately burdensome requests?
- 2 Do you consider that the draft regulations attached to consultation paper CP 28/06 would succeed in dealing with the problem? If not, do you have any other suggestions for dealing with disproportionately burdensome requests?
- 3 Do you wish to make any other comments on the principles or details of the proposals set out in consultation paper CP 28/06?
Do you agree that the FOI Fees Regulations should be amended to deal with the problem of disproportionately burdensome requests?
Define 'disproportionately'. One person's 'disproportionately' is another person's 'It's my responsibility'
The balance needs to be struck between the cost of complying with the request and the public interest in the request. This may cross-over slightly with question two in that the Regulations do not take into account the public interest question and merely give organisations the right to refuse to accede to a request due to the cost implications, notwithstanding the value to the public of the information. Whilst this has always been the case, it is now a lot easier for the cost threshold to be reached.
The term disproportionate in this context has no real meaning. They appear to suggest that it something costs too much it is disproportionately burdensome; but disproportionate to what?
Do you consider that the draft regulations attached to consultation paper CP 28/06 would succeed in dealing with the problem? If not, do you have any other suggestions for dealing with disproportionately burdensome requests?
Again, the Regulations do not succeed in dealing with the issues of disproportionately burdensome requests. For every burdensome request there is another request that doesn't take any time at all to answer.
What needs to be addressed is the relatively low number of people submitting numerous requests to public bodies that have little to no public interest. Merely changing the thresholds at which an organisation can refuse to deal with a request may stop this problem but will also prevent access to information that is legitimately in the public interest. In the absence of any oversight of these decisions, the Government is reneging on its stated desire for open government.
Do you wish to make any other comments on the principles or details of the proposals set out in consultation paper CP 28/06?
The proposed Regulations are too focussed on the economics of a FOIA request and do not deal at all with the public interest question.