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ICO power to stop FOI dodgers 'some way off'

More time to investigate destruction of FOI data requires change in law

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Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, has said that implementation of the justice committee's recommendation for his office to have more time to prosecute people who destroy data requested under freedom of information (FOI) is "still some way off".

Although it is an offence to destroy information so as to avoid responding to an FOI request, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) currently has only six months in which to prosecute an individual.

Under current law, the six months runs from when the offence was committed, not from when the ICO receives a complaint.

"The proposed change to remove the time limit on prosecutions would better reflect the seriousness of the offence, as would a higher penalty on conviction," says the information commissioner in his blog.

Allowing more time for the ICO to investigate the destruction of information in this way, will require changes to legislation, however. The matter will have to be considered by the Ministry of Justice and the Cabinet.

Graham Smith, the deputy information commissioner, told Government Computing that the change was unlikely to be in force before next year.

"I do not think this is that contentious, but just a question of the politicians and legal draftsmen sorting things out," he said.

Overall, Christopher Graham says in his blog that the committee's report appears to offer an insightful and balanced commentary on the way the FOI act is working.

"The ICO will now take the time to digest it in full, before considering how we can further improve our guidance to requesters and public authorities," he says.

This article was originally published at Government Computing.

Government Computing covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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