Information Commissioner welcomes PM's recognition of the importance of FOI

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has welcomed the Prime Minister’s speech on the importance of open government and protecting personal information.

Richard Thomas said: ‘... public information does not belong to government - it belongs to the public. I agree that, wherever possible, that should be the guiding principle behind implementation of the law. I also welcome his call for more to be done to change the culture and workings of government to make it more open. The Freedom of Information Act is working well but the public sector must move further away from legacies of instinctive secrecy. The public has a right to know what is done in their name and how their taxes are spent. I think this speech will bode well for more open government and better decision making.’

He continued: ‘I am also relieved that the government is withdrawing earlier proposals to change the current fees regime. The existing provisions in the Freedom of Information Act can be used to deal with vexatious requests. The current fees regime is working well and is simple, clear and certain. We were concerned that the proposed changes to the fees regime would have been unworkable and deterred people from using the Act.’

Richard Thomas has also been asked by the Prime Minister and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, to undertake, with Professor Mark Walport (Director of the Wellcome Trust), an independent review of ways in which personal information is shared and protected.

The review – covering both public and private sectors - will consider how information is shared from one organisation to another and the protections that apply. It will consider whether any changes are needed to the way Data Protection law in this field operates in the UK and will include recommendations on the powers and sanctions available to the ICO and the courts. It will also make recommendations on data sharing policy to ensure proper transparency, scrutiny and accountability.

The ICO welcomes Prime Minister commitment to freedom of information and privacy (eGovmonitor: Source - Information Commissioner’s Office, 26 October 2007)