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The Irish State wishes to uninvent computers with new FOI Bill

The new Freedom of Information Bill was published on the 24th July. Mark Coughlan pointed out on twitter that Section 17 of the Act seemed to be a little… shall we say, backward?

Section 17 (4) (b) in particular contains the following restriction on how much freedom you can expect your information to have.

, the FOI body shall take reasonable steps to search for and extract the records to which the request relates, having due regard to the steps that would be considered reasonable if the records were held in paper format

This then is the yardstick by which ‘reasonable’ action shall be based. You only have to do it if it was reasonable if everything was printed out and you had only paper to work with.

Query a database? Sure, it might only take a moment to use the search box. But if I had to print it all out and go through it by hand, that would be an unreasonable demand. So, no.

The Explanatory Memo which the Government published to go with the Bill is more explicit about the government’s intent.

Bodies are required to take reasonable steps to search for and extract such data (analogous to the steps that would be considered reasonable if such a record was held in paper form)

When he was launching the Bill Minister Brendan Howlin had this to say:

“the current legislation was essentially designed to deal primarily with paper records and the legislative framework for FOI needs to be updated to reflect the transformation that has taken place in ICT since that time

Now we know he meant that special laws to allow the state to pretend that the ICT transformation never happened should be brought in. Civil servants are to be empowered to pretend that computers haven’t been invented and all their records are paper ones.

UPDATE: Truths you weren’t meant to know: Why the FOI Bill is the way it is.


  1. All animals are created equal but…

  2. Backwards? I approve of this rather than the US government’s policy of tracking every single electronic movement we make (and ultimately use it against us when they can/want.)

    Brb moving to Ireland.

    • This is not about the movement and information of private citizens.

      FOI requests are about access to information relating to government decisions, government actions, government spending and similar information in public service bodies.

      Strong FOI legislation is a sword against tyranny, graft, corruption and inefficiency.
      It’s pretty much the opposite of US surveillance on citizens. It’s about citizens examining government.

  3. Hey, that’s me in the picture!

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