Decision on private emails prevents “industrial scale evasion of FOI”

The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed today’s decision by the Information Commissioner that the FOI Act applies to emails dealing with government business sent from ministers’ or officials’ private email accounts. The decision follows an FOI request by the Financial Times for details of emails between the Education Secretary Michael Gove and his special advisers dealing with departmental business sent using private email accounts.

The Campaign said: “the decision closes off two potentially vast loopholes which would have allowed industrial scale evasion of the FOI Act. The Commissioner has made it clear that government business carried out via private email accounts is subject to FOI – otherwise all departmental business would have switched to hotmail accounts. Information about “political” discussions is also covered by the Act, contrary to the Department’s claims. What is protected is “party political” material, which is deemed to be held on behalf of a political party rather than government itself. The business of government is always political. That cannot be enough to remove it from FOI.”

Note:

The Information Commissioner’s decision is available from http://www.ico.gov.uk/~/media/documents/decisionnotices/2012/fs_50422276.ashx

Guidance on official information held in private email accounts was published by the Commissioner’s Office in December 2011
http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/guidance_index/~/media/documents/library/Freedom_of_Information/Detailed_specialist_guides/official_information_held_in_private_email_accounts.ashx

Further information

Maurice Frankel or Katherine Gundersen 020 7490 3958

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