PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 44

1. FOI & UK DP Enews: Minister announces extension of the Freedom of Information Act to the private sector

Michael Wills MP, Justice Minister, announced yesterday in response to a question from Stewart Dresner, Chief Executive, Privacy Laws & Business, that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) would be extended to private sector companies carrying out public duties. He told Stewart that he expected a formal announcement before the summer recess. The occasion was a conference in London, Private Data, Open Government: Questions of Information, organized by the Information Commissioner.

The basis of this question is Section 5 of the FOIA which states that the Secretary of State may extend the FOIA to any person who exercises “functions of a public nature” or who “is providing under contract made with a public authority any service whose provision is a function of that authority.”

The Ministry of Justice issued a consultation paper on this issue in late 2007 (CP 27/07) and, after organising a meeting with interested parties, Privacy Laws & Business responded in January 2008 with a paper which covers the major issues.

This announcement will certainly be of interest, and concern, to companies which may be designated as coming within the scope of this extension of the FOIA. A legal right to information will extend transparency to affected companies. They will have to become accustomed, and organised, respond to questions from campaigners, their competitors and the media who will have a legal right to receive an answer.

Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner, who end his term of office next month, said: “The Freedom of Information Act was a fragile flower three or four years ago but now it is here to stay.”

Privacy Laws & Business will cover this subject at its 22nd Annual International Conference at St. John’s College, Cambridge, July 6-8th and has invited Mr. Wills to explain the government’s plans in this area.

For further details on the Privacy Laws & Business UK Newsletter, please click here.

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