Saturday, March 26, 2005

Subverting open government in the UK

Three months ago, the UK finally got a Freedom of Information Act. And the Blair government is already trying to subvert it, by setting up a "spin department" to provide responses (or rather, excuses for refusing) queries that could embarass or damage the government. This is a gross violation of the spirit of the Act - not to mention its letter. While the Act provides numerous reasons for refusing to provide information (personal privacy, legal privilege, defending free and frank advice etc), "being embarassing to the government" is not one of them. And in fact, allowing such information to be uncovered is one of the chief purposes of this sort of legislation. The whole point is that the public gets to watch the politicians - not that the politicians get to conceal their errors.

Hopefully the Information Commissioner will step in and subject the decisions of this spin department to the closest scrutiny - and the full penalty of law if they are in any way dubious or politically-motivated.