Maurice Frankel: The FoI was an achievement its creators now want to undermine

Share

There is little doubt that new powers which came into force two years ago have influenced Whitehall thinking, but ministers seem intent on bringing in changes that could undermine their own achievements.

There also appears to be some evidence that decisions are being taken on the basis of the sensitivity of the information being requested, rather than what is in the public interest. Certainly a high proportion of requests to central government are refused on the the ground that disclosure would be exempt because it would hinder the formulation of government policy.

The drop in the numbers of requests made by members of the public may just be the legislation settling down, or it may be people's growing experience that they aren't getting what they are asking for. But the new proposals under consultation do seem to go against the spirit of the Freedom of Information [FoI] Act 2000. Requests could be refused, regardless of their merits, once a certain number of hours of official time have been clocked up.

The draft regulations make no distinction between obscure requests of purely private interest and those of overriding public importance. This approach strikes at the heart of the FoI Act, which is that the basis for decisions should be the public interest, not authorities' interests.

The government consultation document acknowledges that the requesters most likely to be affected would be journalists, MPs, campaign groups and researchers - precisely those people who contribute to public debate. Requests on subjects such as identity cards, the Olympics or the war in Iraq might be refused out of hand in future because the number of hours needed to think about and discuss them exceeded some arbitrary threshold.

A journalist asking the Home Office for information about, say, prison escapes, could use up most of the £600 limit in one go. Any subsequent request to the Home Office from any of the paper's journalists could be refused, whether it dealt with immigration, policing, drugs, passports, anti-social behaviour orders, race relations, equal opportunities, animal experimentation, DNA testing or airport security.

Maurice Frankel is director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Traffic Planner

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the successful candidate you...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Queen at Derby day during the Epsom Derby Festival, 2013  

As an MP, I shouldn't have to swear allegiance to the Queen – I serve my constituents, not her

Richard Burgon
Fifa president Sepp Blatter  

Fifa presidential election: If I had a vote, I would back Sepp Blatter

Sean O'Grady
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor