In the UK, government secrecy is growing. This is how we fight
Information Rights Regulator grapples with their FOI workload:
Earlier this year, openDemocracy analyzed hundreds of ICO decisions in which it deemed the government’s handling of FOI requests “unacceptable” and “inadequate.”
But the ICO is in trouble. In our report “The Art of Darkness”, we found that over the past ten years, the office’s FOI budget has been reduced by 41% in real terms, while its number of complaints has increased by 46%.
New Information Commissioner John Edwards also recently made disturbing comments. Earlier this month, Edwards suggested that for some FOI requests, it is “legitimate” to ask requesters to cover the cost of finding relevant information. His comments were immediately criticized by activists.
Metropolitan police report “high risk” FOI requests
It wasn’t just the departments in Whitehall that reported sensitive requests. In May, openDemocracy revealed that Metropolitan Police had branded FOI demands on sensitive issues, as well as those of journalists and MPs, “high visibility” – despite transparency rules that say FOIs should be “free of charge.” the applicants ”. At least four openDemocracy requests were deemed “high profile”. One of them revealed that the Met Police chief urged the government to use Extinction Rebellion protests as a “much needed opportunity” to limit protest laws.
But there are reasons to be happy
Despite all of this, there are reasons to be hopeful. We understand better what is happening to our right to information – we know what the main issues are and what needs to be resolved. Our work has garnered support from all political parties, and as our recent poll showed, people really care about this right.
We also won a legal victory against the government, imposing transparency on the Clearing House. And more than a dozen current and former editors of national newspapers have signed our open letter calling on MPs to urgently investigate the UK government’s handling of freedom of information requests.
We have launched a parliamentary inquiry into how the Cabinet Office manages its Clearing House and handles FOI requests. The Cabinet Office has even launched its own review of its operations.
Is the wind turning? We just have to keep fighting.