UK Forum Hands Out Public Records Request-Dodging Guidance To Over 100 Government Agencies
from the keep-calm-and-redact-fully dept
Freedom of information laws have given the public a peek inside the government agencies that were always supposed to be accountable to the public. Obviously, these laws have never been welcomed by government agencies. Plenty of documents have been released showing just how much of your tax dollars governments are wasting. But some of the most frustrating wastes are the tax dollars expended to keep documents out of the public’s hands.
Most of that spending takes the form of playing defense against public records lawsuits. But some of it comes from preventative steps taken to keep as much information away from citizens as possible. Andrew Norton points us to a document leaked to a Kent (UK) press outlet which instructs Kent government entities how to keep the public as unaware as possible of the government’s Brexit contingency plans.
The report – marked as ‘sensitive’ and updated last month – cited guidance issued by DExEU that councils and other organisations should refuse Freedom of Information requests about emergency planning and in some circumstances should not even confirm whether they hold information.
In a section headed “How to respond to Brexit-related FOI Requests” the report says Local Resilience Forums or individual partner organisations that receive FOI requests should respond by saying disclosure would not be in the public interest as it “would undermine the effective conduct of public affairs.”
Where requests were about specific details about plans on a particular subject or relevant to an area, the authority should refuse to even confirm or deny if it held information.
Included in the non-transparency packet were fill-in-the-blank boilerplate FOI reject forms, giving agencies a more efficient means of walking away from their obligations to the public. If vague wording about “undermining effective conduct” might appear to be insufficient to guarantee opacity, the template also contained blanket statements to justify the deployment of a UK Glomar.
Considering the percentage of the Kent public affected by the Brexit (roughly 100%), details about contingency plans would be the very definition of “public interest.” And yet, the Kent government figures the less people know, the easier it will be to do things the public possibly wouldn’t support. The blanket of opacity the Kent Resilience Forum has spread is impressive. According to Kent Online, the Forum consists of over 100 government organizations, including law enforcement, emergency services, and national security agencies. That’s a lot of people implicitly agreeing to lock the public out of the Brexit discussion — none of which felt compelled to speak out against the Forum’s guidance.