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MySociety tests FoI website

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A charity is testing a website which automates the submitting, tracking, and publishing requests made under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

MySociety, which runs sites including elected representative service TheyWorkForYou.com and mass pledge system PledgeBank.com, has built a list of FoI contacts at central government departments and is creating one for local authorities.

A request made through the new site is sent to the appropriate state sector contact from a unique email address, allowing all responses to be tracked and published on the site. "Everything the department sends to that address is tacked on," mySociety director Tom Steinberg said. "The whole communication is all online."

Steinberg said so far only one organisation – Parliament – has refused to reply to a request made through the system: "They said, we can't send you this information as you are going to put it on the internet."

The reply mentioned parliamentary copyright as its reason. However, it had provided information in response to an earlier enquiry made through the site, as had the Home Office, while several others are outstanding.

The website tracks requests against the 20 working day deadline under which FoI requests must be fulfilled. Steinberg said the site will add a reminder service for users when a response is overdue, adding that the design and final name of the service are yet to be decided: "We'll finish building the site around what users are asking for," he said.

He added that mySociety is eager to work with state sector bodies on publishing their FoI responses, and believes this could help government organisations. "I hope they will be positive – it will save them a great deal of effort," he said, as citizens would be able to avoid requesting material that has already been subject to an FoI request.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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