On #FreedomofInformationDay, we’re wondering if it could be useful in other parts of life.
The Freedom Of Information Act (FOI) gives us the chance to peer into the darker parts of government and official organisations.
Take any newspaper story about murky Westminster deals or dodgy public bodies and you’ll have a good chance of finding a reference to journalists asking for documents and information by using a #FOI request.
(Of course, if The Powers That Be really don’t want us to see what’s going on, the request will be turned down. But, as I like to say, some is better than none.)
Here’s how the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) defines the Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities.
Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.
The ICO also lays out some principles about the Act, which I’ve summarised:
Everyone has a right to official information. It should only be kept private for good reasons.
You don’t have to give a reason for wanting information – if a body doesn’t want to provide any, it has to tell you why.
All requests should be treated equally and it doesn’t matter whether the person asking is a journalist, an academic researcher or an ordinary punter.
While FOI queries are great for journalists and campaigners digging for dirt, they’re useful in other ways too.
I once got a parking ticket that I felt was unfair because of ambiguous parking signs and a lack of yellow lines. I wondered if the council was using the parking space to generate extra income.
When I wrote to them challenging the ticket, I also mentioned possibly making an FOI request to see how much money the council made from parking tickets and in particular from that location.
Would they have given me the information? I don’t know. But I like to think mentioning the FOI suggested I knew what I was doing and that it was better to refund me, which they did, than for them to press the matter.
In fact, I think we should be able to use FOI in other parts of life. Imagine if we had a world in which we could officially request information from anyone.
When you’re going on a date, should you whip out a form that lists requests for info on their last break-up or most annoying habit? (Was it A: nose picking or B: stingyness?)
Before a wedding, could a best man send a request to the bride-to-be on possible consequences for revealing speeches? (Should I expect A: dagger eyes or B: physical retaliation?)
Should dinner party guests be sent questions about expected behaviour after a few too many glasses of wine? (Will you A: cry at the table or B: remove your trousers?)
If you could send an FOI request to someone, who would it be and what would it say? Let us know in the comments.
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