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‘The UK transparency watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, is carrying out a “listening exercise” about its work. It comes as there is growing concern about the state of Freedom of Information (FOI) in Britain.
2020 was the worst year on record for FOI in the UK, with just 41% of requests made to central government granted in full.’

Open Democracy is seeking your views on secrecy and transparency – click here to partake it will take a couple of minutes to check the provided choices for the following 5 questions:

  1. Freedom of Information requests are currently free of charge. Should they remain free?
  2. Should the ICO be more transparent about enforcement action it takes against public bodies? At the moment the ICO publishes very little information on this.
  3. Should secretive government departments or public bodies face tougher sanctions and penalties for blocking or delaying responses to FOI requests?
  4. Do you think the ICO should process FOI complaints quickly and efficiently?
  5. Should FOI cover private companies that win big government contracts?

13/04/2022 Open Democracy post an open letter to the latest ICO John Edwards, an extract from which reads:

‘FOI is a critical tool for rooting out ills – as journalists demonstrate every week.
But as openDemocracy’s recent Access Denied report outlines,increases in late responses, stonewalling, public-interest-test delays, repeated misuse of exemptions, as well as opaque and inconsistent monitoring and enforcement mean that the current regulatory approach to FOI is clearly not working.’

The Act has been ignored, is outdated, ineffective and the subject of ‘gaming’ by some Authorities.  The problems we have encountered and reported upon can be read here. Examples are:

  • The former ICO, as others, acknowledged the FoI is unfit for purpose with Authorities placing some use of information beyond FoI by utilising private company contractors not subject to the legislation. For years that has been a known loophole, the FoI failing to address the issue.
  • The withholding of information is a criminal offence but, in the 20,+ years of the Act, how many successful prosecutions has the ICO achieved? One! The ICO blames the legislation. What type of workman blames their tools? Apparently, it is for us to present concerns about the legislation to our MP and seek change.
  • The ICO appears not to understand standards of proof. Their ‘very high’ level goes well beyond ‘balance of probabilities’ and ‘reasonable doubt’. But what they actually mean is ‘confession’; that a suspect must admit to wrongdoing for the ICO to act. The ICO fails to seek out or consider the evidence.

But why would the ICO do the right thing? Their ineffective complaints process sees a victim of their lackluster performance able to present two types of complaints:

  • about a DECISION the ICO has reached. The ICO can quickly dismiss this … these issues are for Tribunals. However, a Tribunal does not address ICO complaints.
  • About the SERVICE received. The ICO’s often brief, dismissive response directs the complainant to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). The PHSO has an impressive track record … from the ICO’s perspective – in 4 years, 859 people troubled to approach their MP with concerns about the ICO. The PHSO upheld ONE complaint!

The ICO appears to be unsupervised with little interest in the Act, more concerned about headline-grabbing fines associated with DPA/GDPR – the pursuit of profit-making private entities rather than the ‘Authority on Authroity’ action; the FoIA sees the ICO (a Public Authority) questioning other Public Authorities who simply throw public funds at the issue – between 2016 and 2021 Ministers spent half a million on blocking freedom of information requests.  Your money utilised to keep information from you.

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