Government action over the Freedom of Information Act is likely to block many applications for politically-contentious information on the progress or otherwise of IT-related projects and programmes.
Under the government’s plans, departments will be able to include ministerial time in calculating whether the costs of answering applications under the Freedom of Information Act exceed £600. If civil servants expect the costs to exceed £600 they can refuse to give the information requested.
Once ministerial time is included in calculations, requests for information on sensitive subjects such as the results of “Gateway reviews” of IT project and programmes are likely to be refused on cost grounds.
Maurice Frankel of the Campaign for the Freedom of Information said, “Ministers often insist on personally taking any sensitive decisions under the Freedom of Information Act. Allowing their time to be counted means that the more politically contentious or embarrassing the request, the greater the chance of being refused on cost grounds. It is deeply unfair to penalise requesters because ministers are anxious about negative publicity.”
Last week Computer Weekly revealed that ministers have approved legal action to try and stop the publication of gateway reviews on ID cards. Lawyers for the Office of Government Commerce will fight a decision by the Information Commissioner under the Freedom of Information Act to allow publication of two gateway reviews on ID cards.