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Friday, August 05, 2011

World FOI title up for grabs?

UK Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude speaks about a discussion paper on improving Freedom of Information legislation
 "The UK government is determined to have the most ambitious open data agenda of any government in the world. But we want to embed this approach throughout the public service and we want to hear from people about how they think we should do this." "It is an incredibly brave step for any government to become this open, but this is the approach we want to take in order to create public accountability and efficiency in our services and to drive economic and social growth."
While a couple of the changes for consideration sound somewhat old hat from an Australian perspective, there's always room for reflection:
• Lifting the time limit. "At present, public service providers subject to the [FOI Act] can refuse to release any information where it would take more than 18 hours (24 hours for government departments) to locate, retrieve and extract that information. This time limit does not include the time taken to consider whether the information is exempt from release or to prepare it for release."
• Changing the fee structure. At the moment requests can be refused if they cost more than £600. This could be increased to £1,000, opening the way for more requests to be granted.
One source said: "This is designed to encourage better self-regulation on data storage by officials. If they know that more requests are likely to be granted then they will start collating information more efficiently at an earlier stage."
• Exploring whether the information commissioner has enough powers to enforce FOI legislation. The document said: "The commissioner … has powers of entry and inspection in specified circumstances. It is an offence … to alter, deface, block, erase, destroy, or conceal information with the intention of preventing its disclosure. This offence can apply to any individual. Are these powers sufficient to enforce an enhanced right to data?"
• Changing the law to provide statutory time limits for internal reviews. At the moment there is no statutory time limit for the completion of time review on requests for data, which can lead to delays.

This comprehensive analysis of FOI laws three years ago put Mexico at the top of the pile.

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