The Freedom Bill – some initial thoughts

This morning the Protection of Freedoms Bill 2010-11 was published. This is, rather unsurprisingly, not the same as the Bill proposed by the Liberal Democrats in 2009. There’s no end to the Ministerial veto for a start. (Interestingly, the Freedom Bill website has disappeared, so we’re left with this summary from the Campaign for FOI blog.)

Early days, but I’ve already posted some observations on the FOI amendments included in the Bill on Twitter, so for your convenience, here they are in one place:

  • Information Commissioner weakened, in my view, by one term limit
  • ‘Dataset’ provisions seem very wordy way of saying what s.11 said already – this is what Francis Maude promised way back in October. It’s supposed to force authorities to disclose requested ‘datasets’ in the electronic form stipulated by the requester. Whatever your views on this, the Bill seems a bit wishy-washy on this subject, and in fact doesn’t seem to require much more than is already stipulated by s.11 of the FOI Act (ie public authorities have to comply with wishes of requester “so far as reasonably practicable”)
  • copyright changes look interesting, but why just ‘datasets’? – the one aspect of the ‘dataset’ changes that looks potentially useful is the requirement to allow re-use of disclosed datasets in line with a licence which will be stipulated under the s.45 Code of Practice . This has the potential to clear up the issue that @copyrightgirl commented on in her posts here and here on the blog in recent weeks. But why restrict this to ‘datasets’? If they made provision for re-use of all disclosures, it would resolve the tension between FOI and copyright law for good, especially in relation to things like WhatDoTheyKnow.
  • Publication Schemes – req to publish datasets disclosed. Why not all disclosed info? There are some interesting proposals in terms of Publication Schemes, but again they focus on ‘datasets’. Basically it appears to be introducing mandatory disclosure logs but only for disclosed datasets. Why not make it mandatory to publish all disclosed data? Would help FOI Officers who have been battling for years to get Disclosure Logs past IT managers and web masters who think they upset their nice web design.
  • Gets rid of loophole for companies set up by 2 or more public authorities – good.
  • Martin Rosenbaum of the BBC has commented that he thinks the Bill introduces more freedom for the Information Commissioner in procedural matters – not sure I got that, but may well be true.

So overall, nothing really to write home about. Except I have. One to keep an eye on I think.

No comments

  1. Just to clarify, I was referring to the fact that the Bill means the Commissioner would no longer need ministerial approval for some actions eg to do with issuing guidance, appointing staff. It’s explained in paras 365-374 of the explanatory notes to the Bill at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmbills/146/en/11146en.htm .

    By the way the text of the Freedom Bill proposed by the LibDems in 2009 is still actually available on their website here
    http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/PDF/The_Freedom_Bill.pdf .

    I have found your perspectives and insights on FOI matters to be thoughtful and interesting, and look forward to your further analysis of the Bill in due course.

  2. foiman says:

    Thanks Martin – hadn’t read the Explanatory Notes yet so that’s helpful. Also the working link to the Freedom Bill – I was using the one on the CFoI blog and it wasn’t working so I made an assumption (always dangerous!).

    Also appreciate the feedback – I’m enjoying doing this, but it’s good to know that people find it interesting and useful.