Richard Thomas on FoI, data protection and information sharing

Richard Thomas, UK Information Commissioner, outlines the cultural change required by the public sector to use data sharing more effectively. He states that freedom of information involves a presumption of disclosure, openness and access and recognises that transparency is crucial to trust in the Government, accountability and the democratic process.

The freedom of information legislation also recognises that governments serve the people, not the other way round: "In the first six months of this year we know that over 60,000 requests were made to those public bodies, the vast majority from members of the public wanting more information about issues which affect their daily lives."

This is contrasted with data protection legislation which protects citizens' privacy rights. Thomas discusses data sharing in the fight against crime, prevention of child abuse, and the delivery of health services. But the also raises concerns about a "surveillance society" and recognises the risks of having unacceptable volumes and details of personal information in concentrated databases. There are also issues concerning inaccuracy, loss of accountability, and questions of security which will need to be addressed. Overall, data sharing requires proportionality and strong safeguards to ensure that people understand exactly what is being done with their information.

Information Sharing: Information Rights (, 28 November 2005)