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Govt May Charge For FOI Requests

October 11, 2015

By Paul Homewood

 

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http://www.channel4.com/news/government-to-consider-charging-for-foi-requests                   

 

A Government appointed commission will consider charging the public to submit Freedom Of Information requests, as part of an inquiry into possible changes to legislation.

 

Houses of Parliament

 

Today the Independent Commission on FOI launched a consultation period asking the public for their views.
But sources close to the Commission have admitted they are looking at the possibility of introducing fees.
One told Channel 4 News: "It would be extraordinary to look at the burdens [of the FOI Act] without looking at that question [of introducing fees].

"But there is no starting presumption that there will be [fees introduced]."
The Commission was set up in July 2015 to look at "the practical operation of the FOI Act as it has developed over the last ten years."
But critics have questioned the independence of the Commission, which is chaired by Lord Burns GCB, who is also chairman of Channel 4.
Other members of the Commission are Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Howard of Lympne, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Dame Patricia Hodge.
This summer a letter was sent to the Prime Minister signed by 140 media bodies, campaign groups, and others, including The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and Trinity Mirror.
The letter said they "deplore" any changes that would weaken the FOI Act.
"An independent Commission is expected to reach its views based on the evidence presented to it rather than the pre-existing views of its members." it continued.

"Indeed, in appointing members to such a body we would expect the government to expressly avoid those who appear to have already reached and expressed firm views.
"It has done the opposite."
Today’s consultation period will last for six weeks, with the Commission expected to release their findings by the end of the year.
Lord Burns GVB, Chairman of the Commission, said: "Freedom of Information is an area of considerable public interest and we want to hear the views of as many people as possible, which is why we are announcing this public call for evidence.
"The Commission is an independent body, with no pre-determined view, and is interested in gathering as much objective evidence as possible on the questions posed in the call for evidence."

 

This is extremely worrying news. While it will make little difference to FOI requests from the press, it will act as a serious deterrent to ordinary members of the public. As the Channel 4 report suggests, the Commission is packed with establishment yes men.

Burns is a former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, while Hodgson is currently chair of Ofcom.

 

If anybody wants to submit evidence to the Commission, they can do so here.

6 Comments
  1. Joe Public permalink
    October 11, 2015 1:22 pm

    “If anybody wants to submit evidence to the Commission, they can do so here.”

    And to ensure the Commission considers all the evidence received, someone will no doubt submit an FOI enquiry.

  2. johnstoirvin permalink
    October 11, 2015 2:27 pm

    I guess the British government is no different than the U.S. government. We pay them to do their jobs, then they turn around and charge us to do their jobs. Stealthy taxation without representation. Didn’t we have a war about that?.

  3. John F. Hultquist permalink
    October 11, 2015 3:12 pm

    It is not uncommon for governments to charge for stuff provided.
    Regarding the current issue, whether or not there will be a fee does not change the fact that tax payers now and in the future will pay for the service. This becomes a matter of who pays and how much.
    An alternative is to become 100% transparent. Any document (electronic or otherwise) can be placed on a server and made accessible via search functions. Thereby, the person or group wanting the information can do the work, or pay an assistant or contractor. Bureaucrats can continue to count things and perform the other functions that exist for which they are needed (or not) – and paid.

    I do agree that “a serious deterrent to ordinary members of the public” ought to be avoided.

    • October 11, 2015 6:08 pm

      One of the problems is that if they charge a nominal amount, say £10, it will likely cost them more to process the payment.

  4. Keith Gugan permalink
    October 11, 2015 8:48 pm

    This is the Government acting, through their civil servants, as judge and jury in what is the ‘public interest’ and then issuing it filtered and massaged, and then charging us for it. Freedom of Information should be what it purports to be; free and open. Either it is Freedom of Information freely available by Parliamentary decree or it is not and this should be debated rather than settled by Regulation promulgated by the relevant Minister.

    What it must not be is policies or activities promoted by the Government rendered suitable and anodyne for public consumption. This would treat us, their electorate, as incapable of making our own minds up and compromising our ability to detect and expose lies for what they are. Indeed it could be the means of facilitating change to, or the creation of policy by the back-door.

  5. October 12, 2015 2:59 pm

    same trick they pulled in the Netherlands years ago. They made you pay per copy of a page and then send you 14000 pages.

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