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ICO ruling to expand FoIA scope to private emails and text messages

An upcoming Information Commissioner ruling is expected to expand FoIA’s scope to text messages and private emails, The Guardian reports.

The newspaper says that it has been a widespread practice in government for sensitive communications to be conducted from private email accounts or text messages and to conduct those exchanges in “a less unbuttoned way”.

One of the sources quoted said: “It looks as if they are going to say Post-it notes are disclosable. There is going to be material on the budget, Libyan strategy, everything.”

But even if private emails become subject to freedom of information requests, a number of FoIA exemptions could deter full disclosure.

Governmental communication may well fall into the section 35 exemption relating to the formulation of government policy or the 36 exemption about prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs. When those exemptions are claimed, the ICO has to apply the public interest test of disclosure.

Guardian’s Patrick Wintour said although the ICO refused to discuss the report, it confirmed its publication is imminent.

FoIA improves local accountability

A report about FoIA’s impact on local government conducted by the Constitution Unit of the University of London, concluded that the act has increased transparency but only as an “add-on” to existing mechanisms. The document entitled ‘Town Hall Transparency? The Impact of The Freedom of Information Act 2000 on Local Government in England’ stressed that “local government was already very open” but nevertheless, FoIA had increased accountability. You can find the full report here.

200 shootings by US-hired private firms in Iraq

A spate of field reports from private security contractors operating in Iraq under US orders reveal details of nearly 200 shootings between 2007 and 2009. The Independent reports more than 4,000 pages were published yesterday by US website Gawker after submitting FoIA requests.



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