Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Freedom of Information Act

Tsunamis are distracting people who are wasting time feeling over-sentimental, when sentimentality is less productive than genital masturbation.

The Freedom of Information Act is now fully alive. So far the media has used it to feed us silly tidbits about "what happened 30 years ago". Big deal. The power now is the right of anyone to find out where money is being spent in every public institution up and down the land.

Here's a summary of features:
1. The public should not have things hidden from them. Information should be released unless there is a strong justification for withholding it.
2. Any person, who makes a request for information, must be informed whether the information is held and, if so, that information must be supplied. People making requests do not have to be British citizens, nor do they do have to prove their identity. The person making the request does not have to state why they want the information.
3. Requests must be in writing, and can be on paper, email or fax. The person making the request must give their name and address, and describe the information they want.
4. You must be provided with as much information as is available. A publication scheme may list all documents and publications that are available to the public, which are free or not, and how they may be obtained. You can ask for any recorded information held.
5. The exemptions are set out in the Acts. At local government level, it will be unusual for all the information in a document to be exempt, so while some part may be removed because of an exemption, the rest will be released.
Some information is exempt from provision under Freedom of Information, but is available under other legislation. The Data Protection Act 1998 controls the release of personal information. The Environmental Information Regulations 1992 gives the public access to information held by us relating to the state of water, soil or land, air, animals or plants.
6. On the state of water, soil or land, air, animals or plants, response must be within two months. For any other non-personal information, in general, response must be within 20 working days.
7. If a charge applies, you should be told before you are provided the information and also what the charge is likely to be.
8. If someone is not happy with the response to their request, they can complain to the Information Commissioner, who can instruct the government agency to give them the information they asked for.

2 comments:

Astolath said...

It bothers me that this is only applicable to public bodies and not to private ones. Any commercial body can ask for information from all sorts of people, but we can't ask the same of them.

A very one-sided piece of legislation in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Especially true of private Corporations that have contracts with public sector bodies!