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Freedom of Information (not as boring as you'd think...see the potential) watch

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    Just had an idea and wondered if anybody could help. This whole freedom of info act that's just come into effect is really annoying certain public bodies (like the council my mum works for!) because people are writing and asking to see completely random documents that take ages to find. Well I am bitter about my former secondary school and the pathetic bureacracy that surrounds it so I was trying to think of pointless yet annoying requests for information I could send them so that they have to comply. Don't worry, the admin staff have too much time on their hands as it is so I'm technically being kind and giving them something to do other than gossip about pupils' parents and drink tea. Any evil spirited people got any ideas that would be covered by the Act?
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    Perhaps you'll find this article interesting - and a blow to any plan you might have:

    Times, 11th Jan 05

    Is this new freedom an empty gesture?
    James Michael
    The Freedom of Information Act and other changes that will enhance the public’s right to know






    ON New Year’s Day the United Kingdom joined one of the fastest-growing legislative clubs in the world by bringing into effect the Freedom of Information Act.

    More than 50 countries have such a law, with another 40 giving serious consideration to introducing one. Although Sweden was first to legislate (by two centuries, with its 1766 Act) America started the 20th-century trend with its 1966 Act. Some of the laws are so riddled with exemptions and loopholes as to be not worthy of the name, and others, such as the Zimbabwean Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, are repressive (the title showing that President Mugabe, or more likely his Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, has a warped sense of humour). The British Act is better than nothing, but only just.

    All proper freedom of information (FoI) laws have three basic characteristics. The first is that there is a general public right of access to government information, with no “need to know” requirement. The second is that the exemptions to this right are narrowly defined and limited to information that would harm a particular important interest such as national defence or personal privacy. The third is that disputes over exemptions claimed by government are decided by an impartial arbiter.

    The British Act has several broadly worded exemptions, such as those relating to the “formulation or development of government policy”, and “prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs”. There is a right of appeal to an impartial arbiter, the Information Commissioner, and further to the Information Tribunal. But the worst failing of the law is the provision allowing a minister to override any ruling by the commissioner that the Government does not like.

    Despite this, consumer and environmental groups hope that it will no longer be necessary to go to the US to get information about Britain, such as health inspection reports on cruise ships and meat packing plants, that has not been available here.

    One freedom of information request that is likely to provoke controversy very quickly is for the disclosure of the Attorney-General’s advice on the legality of the invasion of Iraq. A request has already been made under the ten-year-old voluntary code of practice on access to information. That system had a final appeal to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who decided that the advice was exempt under the provision for legal privilege. The ombudsman said that it was not necessary for her to decide whether the privilege had been waived by the Attorney-General’s disclosure in an answer to a parliamentary question that he had given such advice, and that his advice was that the invasion was legal. He since has repeated this partial disclosure in a lecture and in a letter to the press. The time limits in the Act are such that it is likely that in March or April Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, will have to decide the case. If he decides that the privilege has been waived, and that the full advice must be disclosed, the question then will be whether the Government will override his ruling.

    The Act has broad exemptions from access for information provided to government in confidence, and for “trade secrets”. Although most of the public authorities subject to the Act are aware of its effect and have trained their staff to deal with requests under it, few companies are aware that it can affect them. Much of the day-to-day business of government is intimately connected with the private sector, particularly in the areas of regulation and of government contracts. This involves the provision of private sector information to public bodies, sometimes under a legal requirement, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes by government observation or inspection. All of this creates information about companies that is held by public bodies, and so is potentially available to anyone who asks for it, from consumer groups to competitors.

    In countries such as the US and Canada companies which learn that information about them is likely to be made public in response to a request often bring “reverse FoI” legal actions attempting to block disclosure. In the US such actions are not provided for by the statute, but have been developed by the courts. In Canada the statute requires public authorities to notify companies that will be affected by a disclosure. The British Act does not require such notice, and there is only advice from the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Office of the Information Commissioner that there should be “consultation” with companies likely to be affected by a contemplated disclosure. A cautious prediction is that one of the first British freedom of information cases to reach the courts will be a “reverse FoI” action, despite the efforts in drafting the Act to make it as judge-proof as possible.

    The exemptions for private sector information are particularly interesting to me as I came to London in 1972 after winning a freedom of information case in Washington to force disclosure of safety inspection reports by the Federal Aviation Administration. My new year’s resolution is to file a similar request under the British Act with the Civil Aviation Authority for access to British safety inspections. How the Government deals with that and other requests, and how it reacts to rulings by the commissioner that it must disclose information, will determine how much better than a legislative gesture the Act is.


    James Michael is associate senior research fellow at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London University. He was an adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Freedom of Information Bill
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    does this yet qualify for the 'most boring thread of the year' award?
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    (Original post by streetsdisciple)
    does this yet qualify for the 'most boring thread of the year' award?
    its only the 12th of january noob. get out.
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    (Original post by technik)
    its only the 12th of january noob. get out.
    ooohhh dont get a your knickers in a twist mate
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    They can charge you. It might be fun watching their annoyance for a few days, until they charge you £10 a time for the pleasure.
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    I read somewhere they weren't allowed to charge you unless it exceeds £500 or something. It is quite a boring thread isn't it? soz! I tend to get an idea and sort of run with it for a while then get bored. Ask me in a week and I'll have forgotten all about it. But I would so very much love to get in the way of the admin staff of an oppressive public body such as my ex school...
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    Ah. Have found guidelines saying they are allowed to refuse if the request is "vexatious." Am working around it. Although maybe I should give over and just do some revision...nah.
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    can i just say, the data protection act says you have to destroy documents about people after 7 yrs. or is it repealed by this FOI act?
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    What did the school do, exactly, to deserve such information-based torture?
 
 
 
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