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Information Commissioner criticises governments ‘grudging’ stance on Freedom of Information

The Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has said that claims by senior figures that Freedom of Information legislation damages governmental operation are in contradiction with their supposed commitment to transparency and openness, report the Telegraph.

Graham further warned that the government’s “grudging approach” to the FoIA could lead junior civil servants into ‘bad behaviour’, such as using private email accounts or not writing important details down, in order to avoid potentially releasing information to the public. Furthermore, Graham warned  “enthusiastic special advisers” that they risk prosecution if they deliberately try to avoid the disclosure of government business.

Last week Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that FoIA “furs up” the arteries of government. Graham, however, claims the concerns that FoIA is having a “chilling effect” on government are “greatly overdone”, as there are legitimate ways in which Cabinet minutes, for instance, can be kept secret.

Graham concluded: “The Freedom of Information Act is always going to be troublesome but it’s troublesome in a good cause.”

Obama supports new category of secret government files

Obama’s “most transparent administration in history” wants to create a new exemption in the US FoIA to keep secret information on “cybersecurity, critical U.S. computer networks, industrial plants, pipelines and more”, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

Malanie Ann Pustay, the director of the Justice Department’s office of information policy, has claimed existing laws cannot adequately protect such secrets. But the US FoIA already has exemptions to protect, for instance, national security, personal privacy, business secrets and decision-making processes.

Open government advocates urged lawmakers to proceed carefully. Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition of Columbia, stated: “Protections against threats we might face as a nation need not and should not include carte blanche authority for the government to withhold information under an exceedingly broad and ill-defined rubric”.

Business has reportedly been seeking such an exemption more than 10 years.

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