Friday, December 24, 2004

Undermining transparency

Four years ago, the UK made a landmark move towards government transparency - a mere twenty years after the rest of the civilised world - by passing a Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, rather than begin immediate disclosure, implementation of the Act was delayed for four years to allow government departments to put processes in place. The Act will finally come into force on January 1st - and British government are expecting a flood of requests. But they've used the delay productively, all right - by shredding everything in sight:

Julian Lewis, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, warned that the frantic activity could deprive academics and historians of potentially vital information about the run-up to the Iraq war and previous conflicts such as the Falklands. Mr Lewis said: "There has been a dramatic and disturbing increase in the number of files that have been shredded. The steep rise in shredding in some departments is hard to account for other than the awareness that information in these files will no longer be classified as confidential. In the past, the Government could say nothing until 30 years had elapsed.

"It looks like there has been a bonfire of historical records."

The article gives details on the dramtic rise in document destruction across several government departments, and there seems to be little explanation other than a systematic attempt to undermine transparency by purging emabarrasing information and dirty secrets that career civil servants and ministers do not want to come to light.