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Freedom of information roundup — UK act to be completely gutted

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:17 pm on 27 February, 2007.
Categories accountability, freedom of information.
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I’ve been meaning to catchup on a number of freedom of information related stories, and finally I’ve got the chance:

  • Firstly, back in September, the Register reports that Privacy International published a survey showing that 70 countries have now enacted freedom of information laws, over half of which were adopted within the last 10 years:

    Almost 70 countries have now adopted freedom of information (FOI) laws, according to civil liberties group Privacy International. Over half of those have been adopted in the last 10 years, according to a survey just published.

    “The previous two years have been an exciting time for those promoting and using the right of access to information,” said the report’s author, David Banisar, in its foreword. “Countries on every continent have adopted laws. Others have amended and improved their laws. International rights and duties through the UN and other international bodies have emerged. Innovation has flourished.”

    The report found that FOI laws are used across the world to ensure that governments are open and accountable. It also found, though, specific instances where the laws have been used for very specific ends beneficial to citizens.

    In India, the report found, FOI laws are used to gather data on food vendors to find out which vendors are not providing government-subsidised food to the poor. The food distribution system has changed as a result.

    However, not all is rosy with this picture:

    The report also found some significant problems with FOI laws across the world.

    “There is much work to be done to reach truly transparent government,” said the report. “The culture of secrecy remains strong in many countries. Many of the laws are not adequate and promote access in name only. In some countries, the laws lie dormant due to a failure to implement them properly or a lack of demand. In others, the exemptions and fees are abused by governments. New laws promoting secrecy in the global war on terror have undercut access.”

    The report itself can be found here.

  • This blog reported earlier on plans to change the basis on which the cost of processing FoI requests is calculated that would hobble Britain’s FoI Act. Draft regulations implementing these changes have been published and a consultation is open on them (and has been since 14th December) until the 8th March. A debate of these draft proposals in Parliament took place recently and is covered here by UK Liberty.

    It is worth noting that the draft regulations will be introduced to Parliament via the negative resolution procedure (see page 5 of the consultation document), which means that the regulations will be enacted unless one of the Houses of Parliament votes against it — there need not be a vote in favour and if a vote isn’t called, the regulations pass.

  • There is also a private member’s bill going through Parliament, introduced by Tory Party Whip, David MacLean that would exempt both Houses of Parliament plus all correspondence between MPs and public authorities from the Freedom of Information Act’s provisions.

Between them, it seems the government and the Tory party are about to gut Britain’s Freedom of Information Act to the point of making it useless. Other articles about the government’s attacks include this from the Times and this from the First Post . UK Liberty commented on the private member’s bill here.

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