FOIA Response From ICO Office

Finally, there’s a response from the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) over the Freedom of Information complaint I made back in January. Will this mean that we find out why censorship of public consultations happened, or will the civil service close ranks and protect their own?

It’s been a long time since there was the last update in the IPO redaction saga but here we again. For those that don’t remember, a 2012 consultation requested responses citing evidence, dealing with copyright terms, collecting societies, and other copyright issues. More specifically, it requested that any assertion be backed up with evidence. When this was done, anything which didn’t paint the (pre-planned) end-result with roses and sunshine and was sourced, was censored out for ‘potential libel’, even though parts are specifically exempted from libel under UK law.

As a result, I requested all the internal communications, legal advice, and names of those involved, as well as the criteria for redaction. I got around half a dozen emails, and told that’s all I’d get, because poor legal advice should be protected.

Even this wasn’t that easy to get, as the paper trail on whatdotheyknow.com shows. Started in September, it’s taken 9 months to get to this stage, although to be fair, only 3 months of that was the Intellectual Property Office, the other 6 months has been the Information Commissioner Office.

Anyway, the end result is…

There’s going to be no more information. Because it was legal advice, and regardless of it being WRONG legal advice, they decided to uphold the idea that even really badly wrong advice, given to enable the skewing of public discussion on public policy for no reason, should be private, because it was given on the understanding of being private. The idea that when bad information is given, things should be made public, revealed and dealt with, not hidden and papered over, seems to be a foreign concept.

There is some good news however. The ICO did suggest that I file to ask about the redacted responses themselves, perhaps get the unredacted versions, and look at that. However, as far as this chain goes, that’s it for now.

But, the message we have right now, is that civil servents in the UK can just mark any bit that highlights problems with their plans as being ‘libelous’, say you got it on the basis of legal advice, and then it’s Pims all round, as you’re never held to account.