ICO strategy focuses on public awareness and FOI reform

Regulator publishes Openness by Design three-year plan

Credit: Nick Youngson/Alpha Stock Images/CC BY-SA 3.0

Over the next three year’s the Information Commissioner’s Office is to focus its efforts on reforming data-access laws and raising public awareness of such legislation.

The ICO has published Openness by Design, a strategy document that sets out five major goals it has set itself for the coming three years.

The first of these is to ensure that citizens’ rights to access information are “upheld in a timely and consistent manner”. To ensure this happens, the regulator will take a number of actions, including increased “targeting of non-compliance and taking enforcement action”. 

A self-assessment kit allowing public bodies to monitor their compliance will be piloted, and the ICO will also examine the possible introduction of an online portal providing information on authorities’ performance in responding to public requests for information.

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The second goal put forward by the strategy is for the ICO to “lead by example”. This, it said, can be achieved by ensuring excellent customer service in its own handling of information requests, and exemplary performance of its regulatory functions.

The third objective is “raising awareness of access to information rights and making it easier for the public to exercise their rights”.

In support of this goal, the ICO will consider what resources it could provide to schools to help deliver “citizenship programmes”. The watchdog will also look to “develop new engagement channels” to work with public bodies, as well redesigning its online forms to make them more user-friendly.

The penultimate goal is to continue to lobby for data laws to be reformed and expanded to cover outsourcers that provide public services on behalf of government. 

“Since the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulation were implemented (in 2000 and 2004), there have been significant developments and changes in the way public services are commissioned and delivered, with an increased blurring of the boundary between ‘public’ and ‘private’,” the ICO report said. “The legislation has not kept pace with these changes and as a result there is a widening ‘transparency gap’ that undermines access to information rights and public trust.”

The final ambition put forward in the strategy is that the ICO works to establish and build more partnerships with overseas counterparts. In doing so, the regulator will help promote the implementation of information rights across the globe, the report said.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “Access to information goes to the heart of a healthy, functioning digital democracy and has a key role to play in an era of increasing public expectation of meaningful government transparency.”


Sam Trendall

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