Monday 28 January 2008

'Blood out of a Stone Act 2000': Freedom of Information

I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Ministry of Defence last November on a topic related to my PhD project.* Legally they should have contacted me within 20 days and I know they received my request because they've published it on the disclosures log. I still have no reply.

I tried to follow up my request by phone, but guess what...the MoD's Freedom of Information team do not have a telephone number that the public can ring - there's nothing quite like ease of access.

So the best I could do was a leave a message with the Information Access Office who said they would leave a message for the FOI team to contact me. I've tried this twice and still nothing.

This morning I decided on one last final attempt. I submitted another Freedom of Information Request asking the MoD to deal with my initial Freedom of Information Request. Crazy. I hold out little hope for this, which means I'll probably have to complain to the Information Commissioner.

Maybe, once the Information Commissioner's got on their case, the MoD might finally reply. Which would be a start, wouldn't it?

But I imagine, at best, the MoD will tell me they need more time to locate the information, and at worst they'll tell me they can't disclose it because of some exemption under the Act. And even if they do come up with something they'll probably charge me - for the extra working hours it takes to locate the relevant documents.

So here's to the 'Blood out of a Stone Act 2000' and all it does for open and accountable democracy.

*In theory, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows citizens in the UK to request all sorts of information about public organisations. In practice, read on...

Update 29/1/08
  • You can read what James Ball (see comment below) has to say on the FOI Act in the Guardian's Comment is Free section.
  • No further contact from the MoD as yet!


Anonymous said...

They're actually contravening the Act by not giving you a response - asking for extra time to retrieve the information is also in contravention (they can ask for extra time only to consider the public interest of disclosure).

Also, they have a duty to assist under the Act, so not sure how easily they can just point blank refuse to speak to you - best of luck with it...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarifications.

It's probably time to complain to the ICO, but I've just had a read of your Prezz Gazette piece: I'm not sure whether it's better to hammer away at the MoD or start a 6-month complaint procedure!

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