Saturday, September 13, 2008

The OIA vs privacy

Anti-abortion group Right To Life is outraged that an OIA request they have made to the Abortion Supervisory Committee has been refused. The request was for the names and qualifications of members of a new advisory committee established under s15 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 to consider standards for performing abortions. Right To Life calls the refusal "a serious threat to our civil liberties"; I disagree. While the ASC is a public body and is definitely covered by the Act, members of its subcommittees are employees, and as such have a general right to privacy. They also have a right not to be harassed because of their work. Both of these rights are protected under the OIA, and while they are not conclusive and can be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure, I can't really see any such interest in this case. To the contrary, given the real potential for harassment and the anti-abortion movement's links to overseas extremists who murder people, there are strong reasons against disclosure. They should be able to get anonymised information on qualifications, but only if there is no risk of individuals being identified, and they certainly shouldn't be getting names.