Freedom of Information proposal

(28 Posts)
Garrick Fri 18-Sep-15 14:01:37

The Government wants to increase the cost of FOI requests from £10 to £600. I can't see this as anything other than an attempt to strengthen secrecy around government dealings that affect us all. (Plus, people use them to fish out useful info like this geographically accurate Tube map!)It was a ‘Freedom of Information’ (FOI) request that exposed the MPs’ expenses scandal. And it was another FOI request which exposed that a third of NHS contracts were being handed-out to private companies. FOI requests are critical for many of the campaigns that improve our society.Newspapers and several Conservative MPs have already spoken out against the plans. I'm quite fed up with the way democratic rights are being restricted to better-off members of society; the changes to Legal Aid were a shocking example, and this is too. Middle two paragraphs borrowed from 38degrees. [[https://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/protect-freedom-of-information Petition here, if you want to protest.

Garrick Fri 18-Sep-15 14:02:33

Oh, good grief! Sorry blush Trying again.

The Government wants to increase the cost of FOI requests from £10 to £600. I can't see this as anything other than an attempt to strengthen secrecy around government dealings that affect us all. (Plus, people use them to fish out useful info like this geographically accurate Tube map!)

It was a ‘Freedom of Information’ (FOI) request that exposed the MPs’ expenses scandal. And it was another FOI request which exposed that a third of NHS contracts were being handed-out to private companies. FOI requests are critical for many of the campaigns that improve our society.

Newspapers and several Conservative MPs have already spoken out against the plans.

I'm quite fed up with the way democratic rights are being restricted to better-off members of society; the changes to Legal Aid were a shocking example, and this is too.

Middle two paragraphs borrowed from 38degrees. Petition here, if you want to protest.

LightningOnlyStrikesOnce Fri 18-Sep-15 16:59:28

Already signed, I think it's disgraceful.

It becomes very hard sometimes not to see the combined attacks/ creeping privatisation of education, further education, libraries, media (BBC) and now FOI as some kind of deliberate conspiracy to destroy democracy and give the elite free reign to behave however they like (usually to carry on absorbing wealth and exploiting us ordinary folks). How hard should I be trying?

atticusclaw2 Fri 18-Sep-15 17:03:02

FOI requests are abused frequently. Journalists spend a massive amount of time asking questions about anything on fishing expeditions, disgruntled employees ask hundreds of questions etc. public sector organisations are spending massive amounts of money collating reams and reams of paperwork to send out to people. The cost needs to be proportionate.

Nobody is saying that FOI requests shouldn't be allowed, just that the charge should be proportionate. It's tax payer's money after all and we have other more important things to spend it on than subsidising one person's fishing expedition.

Thisisnotmyshed Fri 18-Sep-15 17:24:54

Signed the petition. This is important not just for journalists but for every citizen. If the price goes up lay people will not be able to access this any longer and it will only serve professionals such as journalists.

ivykaty44 Fri 18-Sep-15 18:20:52

FOI request could be charged on an hourly rate basis of £25 per hour and then if a request is going to take somewhere in the region of 35 hours the cost can be given then the applicant can decide where to continue or possibly...redefine there search request.

Some search request are extremely wide in nature.

I think though that Foi shouldn't be prohibitive

jubblie Fri 18-Sep-15 18:26:20

Signed.
£600 is outrageous.

squidzin Fri 18-Sep-15 18:44:28

I completely agree that this fee is designed to protect the interests of Westminster and the "aristocracy" and undermine normal people.

Signed and shared on my twitter / FB.

Baconyum Fri 18-Sep-15 19:06:34

Absolutely disgusted at this proposal have signed and shared the petition in the link but also an official one.

petition.parliament.uk/petitions/104547

It smacks of only allowing the wealthy to have any say in who runs the country and how it is run. Taking us back to the times when you could only vote if you were a landowner!

I agree £10 is probably a little low but honestly we need clarity and transparency in government and we certainly didn't have that prior to foi act!

Baconyum Fri 18-Sep-15 19:07:16

Also shared on twitter and fb and have asked my MP about this.

NotCitrus Fri 18-Sep-15 19:34:23

I'm someone who has to run around collating info and answering FOI requests, and I think it should stay at £10. We're already required to refuse if it would be more than 2 days' work (costed at around £600, which I guess is where this figure has come from).

I also spend a fair bit of time reminding staff that if they would have just answered the question if it didn't say FOI at the bottom and get everyone running scared, just answer the bloody question. And there's nothing stopping you asking the person to clarify what they really want - "Hi Mr X, you've asked for 'all the correspondence regarding Y decision.' That will be about 1000 pages if we printed them all out. Do you actually want that, or would you like to be more specific? Oh, you just wanted to know which Minister signed it off? That was so-and-so. Lovely to be of service. Byee!"

Thanks to UN conventions, access to 'environmental' information is under separate, much stronger legislation, where the cost isn't allowed to be prohibitive, so separating out other FOI is likely to be tricky to say the least.

Garrick Fri 18-Sep-15 20:04:21

Really interesting, NotCitrus, thanks! Yes, the first response to badly-worded FOIs is often a perfectly sensible suggestion about defining the parameters (I spend a fair amount of time persuading rambling activists that the respondent's request was reasonable.)

That's no different from what a public office would do with any request, as you say smile

prh47bridge Fri 18-Sep-15 23:56:42

I would be against such an increase in price but I can find no evidence that it has been proposed. A quick search of the internet hasn't turned up anything. Do you have anything to back this up OP?

And purely for the sake of accuracy, FoI did not have anything to do with exposing the MPs expenses scandal. It was exposed as a result of information leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

Garrick Sat 19-Sep-15 00:02:41

Hmmm ... Too tired to search now, prh. I thought 38degrees did check facts? Will see what I can do tomorrow.

(If anybody's got a tenner, they could submit a FOI request!)

Garrick Sat 19-Sep-15 00:04:37

I've done the easy part.

A February 2008 Freedom of Information Act request for the release of details of MPs' expenses claims was allowed by an Information Tribunal. The House of Commons Authorities challenged the decision on the grounds that it was "unlawfully intrusive".[6] In May 2008, the High Court (England and Wales) ruled in favour of releasing the details of MPs' expenses claims.[7][8] In April 2009 the House of Commons authorities announced that publication of expenses, with certain information deemed "sensitive" removed,[9] would be made in July 2009.[10]

However, before this could take place, a full uncensored copy of the expenses records and documentation was leaked to The Daily Telegraph, which began publishing details in daily instalments from 8 May 2009.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_parliamentary_expenses_scandal

sounds like the FOI triggered the leak

GiddyOnZackHunt Sat 19-Sep-15 00:11:50

It's the misuse of it that's the problem and as usual the general public aren't the abusers of it but will be penalised.
I had one recently that was so broad as to fundamentally nonsense. I had a quick Google and it was definitely a company director making the request for commercial purposes. I don't think raising the cost would deter him.

Garrick Sat 19-Sep-15 00:19:52

Right, it seems the petitioner has simplified the real problem. It's to do with imposing a fee for the tribunal which decides whether a reporting body must disclose information.

Here and Here.

Coomentarty & background info (follow links):

www.foiman.com/foiman-blog

www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/requesting

Garrick Sat 19-Sep-15 00:21:04

It's good to have experts on board, Giddy and NotCitrus thanks

Garrick Sat 19-Sep-15 00:22:21

Coomentarty ?? I said I was tired!

mimishimmi Sat 19-Sep-15 00:41:52

It's to prevent investigative journalism. A similar thing has happened here recently in Australia - it used to be $50 to get a visa to go to Manus Island (an immigration detention camp is there). Now they have raised the price to $800.

www.globalresearch.ca/a-history-of-americas-war-on-whistleblowers-and-journalists-since-911/5423048

GiddyOnZackHunt Sat 19-Sep-15 00:49:47

Mimi but if a newspaper is paying (and can rack it up as expenses), how does that deter them?

mimishimmi Sat 19-Sep-15 01:00:11

I think the newspapers rarely do proper investigative journalism anymore - unless it's to take down a political opponent the owners of the paper don't like. They know the papers are not going to investigate things related to WoT or illegal immigration measures. This is to deter independent investigative journalists.

caroldecker Sat 19-Sep-15 01:14:26

I have had a copy of the geographic tube map for years - they sell it at the transport museum.

Garrick Sat 19-Sep-15 01:15:51

Very good point, mimi. The DWP is now largely being held to account not by opposition politicians, nor by well-funded charities such as Disability Rights UK, but by activists with virtually no income.
(Reblogged - I don't have a B&W subscription.)

prh47bridge Sat 19-Sep-15 15:08:20

Thanks for the links. So what we are talking about is not a fee for making a request. It is a fee for going to tribunal after the public authority has refused and the ICO has supported the public authority (and even then it would only be £100 unless a hearing is required). If the ICO supports the requester it will be the public authority that would refer the matter to tribunal and pay the fees. As this is a court fee if the requester refers the matter to tribunal and wins they will get the fee back. I will be honest and say I find it hard to get worked up about that given the rarity of requesters going to tribunal to challenge ICO decisions.

I support FoI and will be very much against any attempts to limit it, even though my personal view is that the ICO has gone too far on occasion.

By the way, you may think I'm being a bit anal about MPs expenses. It is true that there was an FoI request but the information emerged in a leak to the Daily Telegraph. It is possible that the leak was triggered by the FoI request. It is also possible it would have happened anyway. There is no way of knowing. It is certainly true that FoI would have revealed the facts if the leaker hadn't got there first.

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