In a remarkable decision the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ruled that an MP’s letter to a local council about its parking policy should be withheld to protect the MP’s privacy – though there is no suggestion that the letter contained anything about the MP’s personal circumstances (ICO Decision Notice FS50530093).
Response to the Cabinet Office’s ‘Making Open Data Real’ consultation. The response emphasises the extent to which the government’s vision of improvements to accountability, service quality, efficiency, choice and citizen empowerment depend on the FOI Act, since (a) although data may highlight discrepancies in performance, the broader right of access provided by the FOI Act is needed to understand what is behind them and (b) the ‘right to data’ proposals are being implemented for public authorities by amendments to the FOI Act itself. It also points out that both the FOI Act and open data proposals will be undermined by the contracting out provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill and the Localism Bill. Finally, it argues that the abuse of copyright restrictions, which the government’s amendments address, is not restricted to datasets but applies to ordinary disclosures under the FOI Act.
This response comments on the Ministry of Justice’s Call for Evidence on the Current Data Protection Legislative Framework. It highlights the substantial discrepancies between the rights of individuals to see their own personal data under the Data Protection Act and the rights of any member of the public to obtain official information under the Freedom of Information Act. It also deals with an apparent obstacle to the release under the FOI Act of anonymised statistics derived from personal data.
This article by the Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, appeared in Press Gazette on 13 January 2006
During more than 20 years of campaigning for a freedom of information act, two questions repeatedly nagged me. The obvious one: would Britain ever get an FOI Act? And the more troubling one: if we did, would it be worth having?
A version of this article by the Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, appeared in The Guardian on 14 December 2004
On January 1 the long-awaited Freedom of Information Act finally comes into force. The Act gives the public important new rights to the information held by public authorities. Worried about possible changes to your local school or hospital? The Act should allow you to see the evidence for them. Want to know whether the police are doing enough about burglaries? Use the legislation to probe their response times and clear-up rates. Unhappy about a regulatory body that never seems to do anything when people complain? Ask for their internal guidance on handling complaints and see their staff are doing what they’re supposed to do.
The Department of Health has been challenged over its “absurd” refusal to say how many consultants work in individual trusts or hospital departments. The Department claims that it would be breaking the Data Protection Act by releasing these figures. But the Campaign for Freedom of Information says the Act is being misused and that revealing the numbers of consultants in a hospital would not invade any consultant’s privacy or break data protection rules. It says the secrecy makes it difficult to detect possible staff shortages.
The Campaign has published its response to the consultation by the Lord Chancellor’s Department on the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act. It is calling for people to have the right (a) to know when information has been withheld from them under one of the DPA exemptions; (b) to be able to appeal to the Information Tribunal against decisions of the Information Commissioner, and (c) for the DPA exemptions to be made subject to a public interest test.
The Campaign has supported an application to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal against a county court decision on the right of access to manual files under the Data Protection Act. The court had held that the files in question were not part of a “relevant filing system” and were therefore not covered by the Act. But the judge ruled that even if the files had been covered by the Act, in the exercise of his discretion, he would not have ordered their disclosure in this case, a decision which the Campaign has questioned. (The Court of Appeal has since given leave to appeal.)
Reply to the Campaign’s letter concerning patient’s rights and the Data Protection Act 1998.
This May 2000 letter to the Department of Health explains the Campaign’s concerns about the loss of patients’ rights as a result of the repeal of most of the Access to Health Records Act 1990 and the incorporation of its provisions into the Data Protection Act 1998.