back to article Freedom of Info at 10: Tony Blair's WORST NIGHTMARE

Although the Freedom of Information Act was passed in 2000, it didn't come into force until 1 January 2005, meaning we've had just about 10 years of FoI – as the Information Commissioner's Office was keen to point out in a minor PR blizzard. That load of celebratory snippets* included such worthy-but-dull moments as the first …

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Re: Happy New Year

Indeed, the journalist concerned was convicted of handling stolen goods purely because there was nothing on there that would satisfy an "in the public interest" constraint. Had he spent more time making sure the story indicated by the source had more basis before receiving said goods then he wouldn't have been prosecuted. Pity the in-house legal advice wasn't smart enough to advise him of that.

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Happy

Re: That comment was lucid and understandable

If memory serves, amanfrommars' syntax and grammar have always been utterly impeccable. It's the semantics that cause me the headaches... almost as if a grammarian's pet ELISA project has been let loose on El Reg.

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Happy New Year ....... and Welcome to ITs Turkey Shoot

The bottom line in that lucid and understandable comment, gazthejourno, is that it is forever the Glorious Twelfth and open shooting season on all that which, and all those who would consciously aid and corrupt and pervert the course of reality for truly ignoble and thought to be better held securely secret and ludicrously expensive and lucrative ends.

And it is wise to know and to share if one cares to dare win win and become considerably more aware, ..... a Major Globalised Intelligence Review has discovered both Real and Dark Web Applications for Major Connected Titanic Class Vulnerabilities to XSSXXXXually Exploit and Export Relatively Anonymously,Virtually Protected with Benefits Derived and Delivered via their Subjective Intelligence Sharing with Necessarily Smarter Thin Clients for Ab Fab Fabless Fickle Fiat Paper Deposits in Recognition of Invisible Stealth Non State Actor Expertise in the Secure Intelligent Design and Safe Failure Supply of Electronic DaneGeld Payment Methodologies.

An ACT and APT Use for a USA PATRIOT System [Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism] with Intelligence in Creative Command and CyberSpace Control of Communications with Computers, and All Possible Variations on that Enigmatic Theme and Almighty Powerful Meme.

And be aware that when Advanced Intelligence be MIA and/or AWOL in Systems Drivering and Supportive of Future Programs and Projects, are they and ITs Programmers just as Legal Fair Game for Blasting and Roasting and Devouring.

And have you been playing with Watson recently.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Happy New Year ....... and Welcome to ITs Turkey Shoot

Ah,someone has replaced the missing module,and HAL has returned to normal functioning.

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Re: That comment was lucid and understandable

Yep, Study English with amanfromMars is a great name for the language courses for foreigners.

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Public by Default

It should be written into all contracts for supplying services to public bodies that the full terms and conditions of the contract shall be made public, normally within a month of the start of the contract. If a supplier prefers not to have contract terms made public then they can just choose not to bid.

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Facepalm

Re: Number6 Re: Public by Default

"It should be written into all contracts for supplying services to public bodies that the full terms and conditions of the contract shall be made public....." All fine and dandy, but I can predict exactly what will happen next. I have had to advise on and make public purchasing decisions where I have chosen a more expensive or even the most expensive option available simply because they were actually the best option available, and the cheap options did not provide what was required. In any system where all the bids were published, the losers would immediately use the data to imply some firm of impropriety. If the cheapest bidder lost then the cry would be "money wasting and cronyism", and if the expensive bidder lost the cry would be "corner-cutting endangering service/lives". I have witnessed the complete wasting of time of having to go back and justify purchases and contracts before, all they do is waste public money and resources.

There is also the matter of protected works - when I do work for public bodies I slap a copyright notice on everything to stop my competitors stealing my ideas. That extends to quotes, project plans, just about anything I can identify as my unique product, and if the public body tries to pass it on or publish it I would be pointing out the clause in my contracts that state I will sue for compensation. I know I am definitely not the only person or organisation in the business doing so, which would make total transparency a legal minefield.

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number6, I agree completely. I also would go as far as to say, ALL exisitng contracts should be made public as well, give them a grace period of say 1 year to adjust and clean up their act then publish the current contract. Give them the opportunity to change a contract if they think think it might look bad on them.

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FOI

Nice in theory. Reality is it is just used by scumrat sales reps fishing for business on the back of lies ('we're phoning to renew your contract on the 48 Blackberries you bought last year').

Shame.

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Re: FOI

In practice, I don't think they can cheat a City Council or any Government department the way they cheat normal citizensconsumers. Any shady company trying this trick would have the cops knocking on their doors in a matter of days.

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Re: FOI

@RonWheeler

With all contracts being made public, wouldn't the result be more due diligence?

And if all losing bids are also made public, then such sales tactics would die a natural death under the glare of shared knowledge.

Unless the "scumbag" is a better alternative - they know the terms of the current Blackberries from the availability of the contract, they know about the increased due diligence, so why waste money pitching unless they are a better option?

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The BBC has an FOIA exemption 'for purposes of literature, art, or journalism' and spends a considerable amount on lawyers to persuade the world that _everything_ it does is 'for purposes of literature, art, or journalism'. This is a Bad Thing.

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Holmes

To Mr Corfield...

"...and its author has been dead for 20 years..."

Perhaps they cant tell...

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Re: To Mr Corfield...

To be fair, the author of that report is probably more productive now...

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The only reason not to make information available to the public (if paid for publicly, or from a public purse) is if it is:

1) Private Individuals Information

2) It is genuinely not known.

3) There is something to hide.

I have worked closely with people who answer FOI requests. I have also worked with a Council that used FOI to gain information from other Councils so that it could set up a service eventually set up to do private business and make its ex Head of ICT a significant amount of money.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/erdf_records_access_to_retained#comment-56087

The first thing that needs to happen is that the 'fallback' claim of applications being called 'vexatious' needs to be challenged. (Read the reference application above). By the way - a burden? No way.

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The problem with FOI, and the approximate equivalent in the private sector, DPA/SAR requests, is that they are toothless. The ICON has no real incentive to pursue actions against those who do not comply is budgetary; they have a fixed budget and legal action has to come from that. If the Acts were amended to include punitive garages, for example (and this is a gross simplification) 10% of a companies revenues per action (and allowing for class actions), as well as costs, and those damages recovered allocated to the respondents including the ICO, then the ICO might have an incentive to take greater action.

In the case of FOI requests, it's a more difficult, any fine levied on a council is inevitably paid for by the local population. Holding a council executive responsible is not necessarily fair if the council cannot or will not make sufficient resources available to deal with FOI requests. But in the longer term, if the majority of information was publicly available to start with, and councils nationwide adopted a common strategy to publish that information in a manner that was searchable, then FOI offices in theory wou,d only have to deal with extraordinary requests. Want details of who tendered for which contract, and who was awarded it? Yep, it's online (after the fact), so tax payers can see the details. Want to see how many miles Councilor A claimed in 2012... yep, there it is. Want to know how many employees were terminated with an NDA clause... want to know how many Daimlers were hired to transport the Mayor...

Of course this will never happen, as councils are inherently secretive, just as secretive as central government and MPs.

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Anonymous Coward

Local government

I have to say that if councils did have to publish that information (as I believe they have to do in parts of the US) I might even consider standing for a council. What keeps me from wanting to be involved in local government is the thought of having to work with people who are on the take and pursuing corrupt agenda. I suspect I am far from alone in this.

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Happy

Frankly speaking

Regie Watson, I see her.

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Can't a member of the public who is being ignored by officials get a manadamus court order forcing the government to comply with FOL?

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Anonymous Coward

FOI is a weapon as well as a tool

Having experienced the FOI I can only see the negative side. It's very easy to say that data should be public, but the FOI requires the data to be in the format that the requester wishes.

So if you've carefully catalogued your data by date because that's what drives the decision processes in your organisation and the FOI request wants it broken down by some other classification then you end up spending 2 days re-processing as much raw data as you can find to re-classify it. It's of no use to the organisation so it's just wasted time. Get a few of those and you end up with a full time post just re-processing data for FOI requests. Wasted public money.

Don't forget that someone has to go through what's been produced as a response to the FOI redacting all personal information and making sure that it's not possible to derive any personal information from the data either statistically or heuristically.

Now some of these are sales people on fishing trips to find out how much stuff you've got so they can try and sell you something different. So when you get the sales call they already know what you have and how much you paid for it and when the renew is due.

There is a risk that a group of people could submit enough FOI requests so that the administrators can't respond in time leaving them open to legal action. Such a group could exploit such a situation during a negotiation - hypothetically.

The solution is to make sure you only hold data that you actually need for business continuity and destroy everything else. I like data and would like to think of it being useful as a historical record - but the FOI is pushing us towards destroying as much as we possibly can to avoid the costs of making it public.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: FOI is a weapon as well as a tool

Easy to be vexatious.

Annoyed that your planning application for a new garage turned down?

Write letter to council asking their annual spend on paperclips and staples in the last three years, broken down by department.

Wait a week, write in and ask for the same three year period, but broken down by month.

Give it a week, and request a copy of their environmental policy on bluetack use.

Rinse and repeat.

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Re: FOI is a weapon as well as a tool

Chilcot and the Law and Justice System appear to be proving beyond any reasonable doubt, AC, that FOI is a blunt weapon and useless tool perverted to subvert the truth in favour of selected fabrications pushing a number of conspiring personal agendas which pay no heed to public opinion and general needs.

Such are surely valid just grounds for thoughts which could be planning for system change and even, whenever necessary, violent revolution which purges and cleanses the present of follies and past disastrous movements and ignoble undertakings.

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Bur surely Mr. Blair, If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear!

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