Archive for January 5th, 2006

FOIA Here and There

The United Kingdom’s Freedom of Information act is so new it still has that new-car smell to it. Nonetheless, in many ways it’s vastly superior to the U.S. version. One notable difference between the good old U.S. FOIA and the UK’s FOIA is that under the latter one may request information, not records.

It’s a subtle distinction, but important. You can’t ask questions of U.S. agencies; they’re prohibited by law from generating new records in response to FOIA requests. The closest you can get is to ask for copies of records of a certain type, and/or on a certiain subject… and hope for the best. In the U.K, you can make broader, less-specific requests, and the burden is on them to respond… in twenty days or less, even. Their fee structure is a lot more user-friendly than those of most American agencies, as well.

I recently made a FOI request of the MOD; not frivolously, just to test the system, but because it was an area I’m genuinely interested in, and even in the public’s best interest. They provided the information I asked for – as a spreadsheet excerpt from a RAF database, and unredacted, as far as I can tell – in 21 days, though that covered both the Christmas holidays and New Year’s. Quite remarkable, really.

There’s recently been some new FOIA legislation pased in the States, which would – theoretically – make the FOIA rather more user-friendly. Whether it’ll do any good is anybody’s guess; the existing laws are fairly good, such as they are. The biggest problem lies with agencies’ tendencies to not comply with them, and it’s unclear to me just what, if anything, the new laws do to address this issue.

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on January 5th, 2006 | Comments Off on FOIA Here and There