In other words, this 2005 regulationencourages the re-use of public information for reasons other than its original purpose”.

Although often more useful for companies and industry, who are free to use requested public sector information for commercial purposes, it is also a time-saving endeavour for journalists and an easy-access route for the public.

The regulation applies to all information requested for by the use of (and defined by) the Freedom of Information Act, but educational establishments are exempt and a similar set of rules are in place.

These regulations do not force public bodies to keep information publically available unless otherwise required. They do, however, force public bodies to (courtesy of the very helpful Portsmouth Council);

  1. publish a list of the main documents which can be re-used
  2. publish any standard conditions associated with re-use
  3. publish any standard charges associated with re-use
  4. operate a request procedure
  5. operate a complaints/appeals procedure.

A response is required within 20 days, but since you’ll be forced to specify exactly what documents are being requested and the reasons as to why you are asking for the information, responses should be more prompt than with FOI procedure.

All that is required from you is a written request (e-mail is acceptable), with your name and  address, the information being requested and the reasons as to why you’re filing the request.

So look out for listings of documents on your Local Council’s website before you throw out a FOI request, and if you have any worries about pricing or the conditions of use of certain information, this is a good place to look.

Advertisements

One of the most heated debates of recent years has been climate change, and on Friday, the Guardian reported that the University of East Anglia has had to relinquish masses of previously secret data on climate change because of Freedom of Information law.

It is said to be a victory for critics of the climatic research unit at the University, after two years of strong-holding vast numbers of global temperature records from fellow researchers and climate change sceptics.

However, the decision by the government’s information commissioner (Christopher Graham) is the first of its kind, and Johnathan Jones, who requested the data and is not a climate sceptic, puts it best;

“The most significant features of this decision are the precedents that have been set”

This decision should enable the release of more scientific research to the public as part and parcel of Freedom of Information law.

The law states that public bodies (including universities) have to release data unless there are good reasons not to, and in this case, the UEA said that legal exemptions applied; some of the data belonged to foreign meteorological offices and it was said that there would be value in selling the data to other researchers.

However, the decision by the commissioner “said suggestions that international relations could be upset by disclosure were “highly speculative”, and “it is not clear how UEA might have planned to commercially exploit the information requested.”

It is the first ruling made on climate data since ‘climategate’, and will obviously have huge implications in both the climate debate and in the request for information, as this case should outline procedure for universities and other public-servicing research centres when it comes to offering information the public.


Seriously though, hear me out.

My recent (completed, yayay) dissertation has got me thinking about crowd-sourcing and the recent Ryan Giggs… scandal? (he who shall not be named can have the title back)

“Journalism, according to Ryfe and Mensing (2010), has been an ever-present commodity in everyday life because it represents the relationship between democratic community and modernity, and when the community are not content they feel as though it is their right and responsibility to either complain or do the work better themselves.”

I used this Ryfe and Mensing quote from their extract in Public Journalism 2.0- The Promise and Reality of a Citizen-engaged Press by Jack Rosenberry to discuss the idea of community activism, and I think it raises a key issue in this debate over privacy and “Naming Private Ryan“.

When the community are not content, they will do the work themselves.

This concept is normally applied to crowdsourced investigative journalism, like in the case of the ever reliable Helpmeinvestigate. When the mainstream news media have little time or money to throw at an issue, the crowd will kick up a fuss.

Similarly, if an issue is not of  ‘importance’ to mainstream media, like pot-holes in roads or local government accounts, then the community who are concerned will send out Freedom of Information Requests and collect a community who will find answers.

Now, the system in which the mainstream media work, it could be argued, is the cause for their apparent lack of interest in these kind of issues, and is the cause of the lack of funding and time.

When this system falters, the citizens kick, scratch and bite.

Now, in the case of #Giggsgate, the failing was not one of the mainstream media directly, but of the privacy laws in which they work.

Super-injunctions. Some say they are worthless since The Sunday Herald pushed out in front and practically unmasked Giggs already (it seems now, a brave but worthwhile PR stunt until some vindication arrives).

The Trafigura case from a few years back brought the super-injunction to the knowledge of those media practitioners who hadn’t come across it already.

But, really, all you need to know is that you can’t talk about or publish something. And in cases, this super-injunction cannot be mentioned either.

I would show you Lauren Laverne explaining it on 10 o’clock Live, but apparently, Channel 4 like removing any knowledge that such an occurence ever took place, so instead, I’ll leave you with HIGNFY.

But, a key note is Ian Hilop saying:

“Judges are making up privacy law as they see fit… as they inevitably balance freedom of the individual privacy against the presses freedom of expression…

Now, the systems of the mainstream media fail in this regard because they can’t publish. There is information of (relative) public interest that has been blocked because somebody wanted privacy.

And even though it is a failure out of their hands (and admittedly, in the hands of judges who, as a failing of the law, do practically have to make up privacy law as they go along) the public still feel that it is a failure, and set about distributing the information themselves.

Amongst all the #superinjunction and Wikipedia alteration (and one particularly funny google answer in which “flying piggs” was the response), the discussion between friends on Twitter was key. It’s always been one of the main reason people read the “weird and wonderful” section of the BBC website and actually read content in lads mags;

We want to be the first pers0n to know about something and and the first person to tell it to our friends. It’s human nature.

If Giggs hadn’t super-injunctioned, not many people would have cared for longer than a few days. People would have thought less of him as a person, but if you make your bed after having washed the sheets after having shagged a big brother lady, you have to lie in it at some point, even if it’s only for a night or two.

The important point is that the public smelt a story being hidden, and they, seeing that the mainstream media were faltering, decided to take things into their own hands.

Around 75,000 people uttered the name before the right semi-honourable MP  John Hemming covered for them using parliamentary privilege, an inappropriate out of date way to flout an inappropriate, out of date rule.

The argument isn’t about this story; if anything, it gives the argument more weight: if people will stick their necks out to name a cheating footballer, what will they do when it’s their money, their society or their own freedom of expression that is at stake if the rules aren’t changed?

And how can you prosecute, even with the appropriate user or profile information, when you’re accusing people of flouting an injunction that they supposedly aren’t supposed to know even exists? (and even if they do, they’re clearly not intimidated because the serverity law is made as private as the issue)

It’s a messy set of laws for a messy society and let’s hope that for once, the MP’s step up and sort out a law that can function alongside rather than in response to society.


Freedom of Information has enabled access to information.

But sometimes, there are still issues with making this information accessible to all in usable formats, whilst still avoiding charging or licensing issues.

It’s nice to see a government-encouraged website trying to change things; the Public Sector Information Unlocking Service, although the regulator for the re-use of public sector information, is trying to encourage the copying and re-mixing of data by allowing users to essentially make mini-petitions for information.

They ask you for the problem, your ideal solution and what you will do with the information. Requests are stored by data (under each month) and adding your name and e-mail address allows you to ‘support’ a request, giving it more prominence and a greater chance of getting noticed.

It’s a good idea with potential, but at the moment, the information asked for is a bit vague and confusing (a lot of people get confused when asked for ‘the problem’, and whether or not this with regards to why the information couldn’t be easily accessed or why they are asking for the information), and it only allows access to information that is accessible under the Freedom of Information Act.

Alongside this, it seems that, for a long time, none of the requests have gained any supporters, and despite requests dating back to 2008 it seems as though the whole thing hasn’t really caught any momentum.

It is something to keep an eye on forever, and something that could make the utilisation of Freedom of Information and access to open data a whole lot easier.


With every FOI request, there is always that lingering risk that something may go wrong, despite the systems put in place to ensure that information that should be public, is public.

This seems to be the case with Clean Air In London.

A Freedom of Information request filed in January 2009, requesting “a copy of any minutes, papers, correspondence or other material relating directly to any meeting (including sent subsequent to it) that takes places between Lord Hunt [Environment Minister under the previous Labour Government] and Mayor Johnson”, has still not been completely successful, despite two years of battling.

In fact, two successful appeals, fronted by Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London, have been ignored by the government, with them arguing that the information was covered by ‘legal advice privilege and litigation privilege’, despite the rulings “by the Information Commissioner’s Office in November 2009 and at an appeal heard by the First-tier Tribunal in May 2010”.

The information is so important because, according to Clean Air in London, “The sections of the documents which the Government has yet to release are believed to relate to the western extension of the congestion charging zone and air quality”, essentially key in their battle make the Government to recognise its poor response to air quality laws.

The Government is still appealing against the decisions, and it will be interesting to find out, should their appeal be unsuccessful, how long their resistance can last under the gaze of the Freedom of Information Act.


Now, more than ever , public organisations are trying to make themselves just that: public.

After flicking through the Media Guardian this morning, I read on the front page the following;

The genie cannot be put back into the bottle, however hard authorities try. The information relationship has shifted, but the power relationship has not. The Democracy recession is gathering pace.”

The general public now have a thirst for that most gritty and honest of information and journalists more than ever are gaining access to it.

This means that everyone is becoming more wary of the way in which both public and private organisations handle, store and release information for public consumption and record.

This is why we are mentioning onebillionpageviews and the BBC; the anti-license fee website have offered a single download that allows access to all the Freedom of Information requests that the BBC received (and hosted on their site) before 2008, which were later removed.

First of all, it is shocking that whilst everyone is so tuned in to the way in which public organisations handle data that the BBC would simply remove a huge cache of data from their site.

Secondly, for the BBC to do anything this brave and seemingly careless with their data when websites like NoTVLicenseFee are willing to keep that store of data available for the foreseeable future seems counter to their nature as a ‘public’ organisation.

They have also chose to host every freedom of information request that the BBC received since the big removal and any more that arise in the future.

It’s great that a site like this wants to hold organisations to account and make sure that data is readily available amongst the rise in public curiosity into how their money is being spent, but it is also important that massive organisations like the BBC are careful to not be caught in the crossfire that grows out of the “democracy recession”.