ICO praises calls for expanding Freedom of Information powers

Reforms to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which are being discussed by the government, have been given the thumbs up by data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which believes greater transparency will ensure greater fairness in the future.

One of the biggest changes that will be made in the first slew of reforms will reduce the amount of time that data can be withheld from the National Archives, cutting the current 30 year period of retraction to just 20 years. This means it will be easier for anyone to get their hands on court documents and papers which circulate in central government.

Once the legislation passes, it will be possible for FOI requests to be made against a wider range of individuals and organisations, including any business owned by the public sector and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The practical applications of the FOI act will be considered and the government will also be looking into whether the changes will be effective, with a view to making further amendments if they do not go far enough towards ensuring transparency.

The ICO’s Christopher Graham, said that transparency was already being achieved in many areas, citing the publication of wages collected by high earning members of the Civil Service as just one way in which data was becoming less rigidly protected.

Mr Graham pointed out that the FOI act is six years old and so a revision and expansion of its powers seems sensible.

It is said that the public is hungry for gaining more access to the data which relates to their lives and how the country is being run, with Mr Graham speaking out in favour of this inclusive transparency that the FOI makes a legal requirement.

Mr Graham also said that he hoped the ICO would be seen as a more independent body, able to enact its duties within the public and private sector, without bias, while upholding the basic rights of data protection expected by UK citizens.

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