Guidelines for FOIA stragglers

Freedom of - what was that?

The Society of IT Managers (Socitm) has published a report on the impact of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), with advice for IT managers on preparing their organisations for dealing with the new legislation.

This is free for Insight subscribers. Otherwise, the report costs £25 from the Socitm website.

As the FOIA came into force at the beginning of this year, Socitm might seem a little tardy, but it says its report is a "timely reminder of both the responsibilities and the wider opportunities from good information management".

Yes, but ... organisations prepping to comply with the Act now, are already too late. The legislation was passed in 2000, so they have had five years to get ready. Granted, MPs last month criticised the Government for failing to supply clear guidance on the act. "In some respects, the result has been that local government has been given a few weeks rather than four years to prepare fully," the Select Committee of Constitutional Affairs said.

The Freedom of Information Act requires all public bodies to provide almost any information to a member of the public who asks to see it. Section 1 of the act states: "Any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled: (a) to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds information of the description specified in the request, and (b) if that is the case, to have that information communicated to him."

To comply, organisations need to be on top of their data. The 16-page booklet encourages IT managers to look at the Act as an opportunity to introduce good information management practices, and increase effeciency. It says that bringing an element of compulsion to these areas of IT management is essential for effective delivery of public services.

Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight, commented: "If records are badly maintained, the decisions we base upon the information that we derive from them are at best unreliable, and at worst simply wrong. The wrong decision can quite literally be a matter of life and death, as we know from the cases of Toni-Ann Byfield, Victoria Climbie and the Soham murders." ®

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