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Government gives welcome commitment to “look again” at data-hostile FOI provision

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On Friday evening the Government was contacted by the the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) regarding Section 17(4) of the new Freedom of Information Bill. The OIC had called me earlier that day to discuss the concerns I’d expressed in my posts earlier in the week.

At the end of my conversation with the OIC, Mr. Stephen Rafferty, a senior investigator at the OIC acknowledged that the wording of Section 17(4) was open to multiple interpretations. He said he intended to contact the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and suggest to them that they might want to look again at the wording I had highlighted.

I should say that I think that this was a very admirable instance of a public body taking the initiative and meeting a problem as it appears, instead of defending the indefensible unless forced to do otherwise. The Office of the Information Commissioner deserves considerable plaudits for doing this.

On Friday evening, the Journal.ie reported that, having been contacted by the OIC, the Department now

““accepted that there is certainly scope for interpretative difficulties. They will look at it again and take whatever action they deem necessary,””

This is a welcome acknowledgment of the legitimate concerns raised by our office and by other knowledgeable parties about the wording of Section 17(4). It will be interesting to see what form the Department’s response will take in the coming weeks.

Background:

On Monday I wrote a post expressing my concern with the wording of Section 17 (4)(b) of the newly published Freedom of Information Bill.

See: The Irish State wishes to uninvent computers with new FOI Bill

On Wednesday, I followed up with a discussion on the other provisions of Section 17(4) and their likely cumulative effect of blocking effective database-driven transparency.

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

I had offered the Department that published the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform a right to reply. On Thursday I published their response

See: FOI Bill: The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s Right To Reply