Freedom of Information at 250 Event

foi250The Campaign took part in an event on 8th December 2016 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the world’s first ever freedom of information law, adopted in 1766 by Sweden and Finland which at the time were one country. The event was hosted by ARTICLE 19, the Embassy of Sweden, the Embassy of Finland and the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

The evening session provided the first opportunity for many people to hear from the new Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, on her priorities for Freedom of Information.

The Commissioner spoke about two challenges and two possible solutions. First, the challenges of the digital era:

“A legislative duty to document is my answer to the challenge of decisions that are increasingly taken by public authorities by text, by instant messages, by email communication, by sofa government, by oral government…If public authorities were put under a positive legislative duty to record important decisions and how those decisions were made, to note those reasons, to write things down, to document things, then I think it would really assist our FOI rights.”

The second challenge was the outsourcing of public services. Her solution:

“We should extend the right to know about public services so that’s independent of the service provider. So whether public or whether it’s private or third sector organisations that are delivering the service the public right to know should stand unchallenged.”

She said the ICO will submit a special report to Parliament on outsourcing and transparency in 2017.

Asked whether she would take on government departments with poor FOI compliance, she responded:

“I think that central government though has got away with – I’m not going to say murder – I think they’ve got away with behaviour that needs to be adjusted and we need to focus on some of the central government departments. I also worry that setting the 85% for our monitoring…seems a little low in my estimate so there may be some areas where I need to go in and do some more audits. I know which organisations we need to focus on…We’re already doing an audit I just won’t say where.”

Audio recordings of the three sessions and the slides shown by some of the speakers can be downloaded from the links below. The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies has collected a number of tweets from participants at the event using #FOI250 and published them on Storify.

Audio: Session One: FOI in the UK and Europe

Opening speech by Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19

Introduction by the Ambassador of Finland, H E Ms Päivi Luostarinen and the Ambassador of Sweden, H E Mr Torbjörn Sohlström

Des Wilson, Founder, Campaign for Freedom of Information
Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information
Helen Darbishire, Director, Access Info Europe
Moderator: James Michael, Chair at Information Law and Policy Centre

Audio: Session Two: FOI – the Swedish/Finnish history

Jonas Nordin, PhD history, Royal National Library, Stockholm (slides)
Peter Hogg, Former Head of Scandinavian Section, British Library
Ian Giles, PhD Scandinavian Studies, University of Edinburgh
Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Center for Law and Democracy (Canada) (slides)
Moderator: Ben Worthy, Lecturer, Birkbeck College, University of London

Audio: Session Three Panel: FOI – challenges and the future

Lord James Wallace of Tankerness, who piloted the FOI (Scotland) Act through the Scottish Parliament
Elizabeth Denham, UK Information Commissioner
Moderator: Nicola Cain, Head of Legal, Freedom of Information & Contentious Data Protection, BBC

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