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Commissioner marks International Right to Know Day

News release: 28 September 2011

‘Transparency is not just about what the authorities choose to reveal to citizens; but what citizens have a right to ask to see,’ Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said today, in a speech to mark International Right to Know Day 2011.
 Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

“We need to ensure that there is no gap between the right to know rhetoric and the reality of a ‘don’t tell ‘em’ mentality that all too frequently frustrates the citizen.

“I believe that an active and independent ICO can help make a practical reality of the transparency agenda. Not just supporting the direction of travel, but helping to reach a common goal. Delivering a Right to Know 2.0. The reality, not just the rhetoric. The difference between seeing it through – and seeing through it.”

In the course of the video address broadcast on YouTube, the Commissioner set out how the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is already a key player in delivering an effective Right to Know; how his responsibility for both the right to know and the right to privacy enables the ICO to assess where the public interest lies when rights appear to be in conflict; and why the ICO should be an essential partner in delivering the much trumpeted transparency agenda through to practical reality.

Mr Graham also today launched a public consultation on the content of publication schemes – the documents that specify what information public authorities must release proactively.

Speaking about the consultation, he added:

“We will want feedback, not just from public authorities but from members of the public. Our questions will include asking what further classes of information or further detail can be included in publication schemes? And how should publication schemes evolve in light of new technologies?”

Other topics covered in the Commissioner’s speech on the state of information rights in the UK include:

  • New technologies – the Commissioner says it is ‘vital that the FOI regime responds to the new demand for information online.’
  • Unstructured data – Mr Graham states that unstructured information – such as emails and memos – are ‘important in delivering accountability and holding public authorities to account.’
  • Service delivery changes – The Information Commissioner warns that ‘contracting out and the involvement of new providers…must not reduce the citizen’s right to know.’
  • The ‘balance’ between transparency and privacy – Mr Graham makes clear that ‘just saying there’s a balance doesn’t itself strike the balance. The decisive factor must be a sober assessment of the competing interests…and privacy shouldn’t always be claimed as a barrier to transparency.’
  • Anonymisation – The ICO is developing a code of practice on anonymisation under section 51 of the Data Protection Act.
  • Protection of Freedoms Bill – the Commissioner gives the ICO’s view on the information rights aspects of the proposals, including DNA profiling, CCTV and vetting checks.
Press release here.
Transcript of the Commissioner’s speech here (pdf).
Consultation document on revising publication schemes here (pdf).

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