Freedom of information causes too much freedom of information

Leading freedom of information campaigner Maurice Frankel is of the view that the government thinks we know too much about it: "Only two years after bringing the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act fully into force ministers have decided to severely cut back the right to know".

MrFrankel argues that the FOI Act has been effective on a number of fronts and that every attempt should be made to resist any changes that would limit it: "What the government really wants is a bit more privacy from our prying eyes. FOI is beginning to put ministers under pressure. We are learning more about the costs of contentious policies like identity cards. We now know that the government considered weakening money laundering controls to encourage US style super casinos in the UK. Unwelcome information about ministers' meetings with commercial lobbyists has been disclosed. FOI has revealed that the apparent success of some academy schools, favoured by the government, is due not to better teaching but to the selection of pupils from better off backgrounds."

Mr Frankel argues that the government wants to make it much easier for authorities to reject FOI requests. At the moment, they can refuse to answer a request if the cost of finding the information would be more than £450 or, in the case of government departments, £600. Ministers want to enable them to be able to include the cost of the time spent discussing and deciding what to do about a request.

Ministers also want to allow authorities to be able to add up the cost of any requests made by the same individual or organisation to a particular public authority during any three months, and refuse them if the total is more than the £450 or £600 limit. The authority would have to show that it was "reasonable" to aggregate costs in this way. But once they did so, argues Mr Frankel, a newspaper, campaign group, MP or other regular requester might be limited to one or two requests a quarter: "The casualties could include those requests which do most to inform public debate, extend the boundaries of openness and help hold authorities to account."

Government thinks we know too much, says freedom campaigner (Warwick Courier, 15 February 2007)