The Constitution Unit


What is freedom of information and data protection?

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Redacted information

Over 90 countries around the world have some kind of 'right to information' for their citizens to obtain information from public (and sometimes private) organisations. The UK passed its own Freedom of Information Act in 2000 and it was brought into force in 2005. The development of Data Protection in the UK can be traced back to the 1970s and the first Act was passed in 1984. The current Act follows the provisions of the EU directive, and ensures the rights of individuals to have their personal details kept private, up-to-date and lawfully used.

History of FOI

A history of openness in Britain - a timeline

Harold Wilson's first Labour government 1964-70

1966: Fulton report recommends investigation into 'ways of getting rid of unnecessary secrecy'.

1967: Wilson reforms the 50-year rule on records release, reducing the time period to 30 years.

1969: The White Paper 'Information and the Public Interest' addresses the issue of secrecy but does not endorse any specific reforms (Cabinet Office 1969).

Edward Heath's Conservative government 1970-74

1971: Franks review of section 2 Official Secrets Act 1911 keeps the issue on the public agenda.

1972: The Local Government Act allows access to some of the core decision-making processes of local authorities.

Harold Wilson's second Labour government (Callaghan becomes PM in 1976)

1974: Labour's October manifesto commits a future Labour government to an FOI Act and the repeal of the Official Secrets Act 1911. The pledge features in every manifesto until 1997.

1975: Following a visit to the USA by Roy Jenkins, the Labour government rejects FOI legislation and the government seeks other ways of bringing about openness.

1977: The scope of the Official Secrets Act 1911 is reduced through a change in prosecution policy

1978: The Croham Directive aims to increase openness through a voluntary release of information, particularly background evidence used in decision-making.

1979: The government publishes a Green Paper on open government (Cabinet Office 1979), and remains 'open minded' on the possibility of FOI legislation in response to Clement Freud's Official Information Bill. The bill fails when the government falls in April and Parliament is dissolved.

Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government 1979-1990

1984: The Data Protection Act brings subject access rights to personal information held on computerised records.

1985: The Local Government Act further expands access to local government decision-making.

John Major's Conservative government 1990-1997

1992: Environmental Information Regulations come into force, allowing access to environmental information under EU Directive.

1993: Mark Fisher's 'Right to Know' Private Members' Bill gains cross party support but runs out of time.

1994: John Major's Code of Practice on Access to Government Information comes into force across central government, enforced by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

December 1997 - December 2000

The Labour Party in the UK had a commitment to introduce a Freedom of Information Act in every election manifesto since 1974. The 1997 manifesto said "Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in government and defective policy decisions ... We are pledged to a Freedom of Information Act, leading to more open government ...". After the dropping of shadow spokesman Derek Foster in May 1997, David Clark became the Cabinet Office Minister in charge of delivering on this pledge. In the first week of the new government conflicting messages were issued on whether an FoI Bill would be in the first year legislative programme. In the Queen's Speech on 14 May, she promised a White Paper by the end of July 1997 and a draft Bill on FoI early in 1998.

White Paper Your Right to Know (December 1997)

The Cabinet established a Ministerial Sub-Committee on Freedom of Information, chaired by the Lord Chancellor, with 23 members representing every Whitehall department. The White Paper Your Right to Know: The Government's Proposals for a Freedom of Information Act (Cm 3818) was published in December 1997. The Cabinet Office also published a volume of Background Material based on the papers prepared for the Cabinet Committee. The White Paper was hailed as offering a very generous FOI regime, with its wide scope covering the whole of the public sector, enforcement by an Information Commissioner with power to order disclosure, and exemption provisions based on a test of substantial harm. The Constitution Unit's Commentary on the FoI White Paper (January 1998) warned that it was too good to be true, and suggested that it was an unrealistic White Paper that had been brought out without full understanding or wholehearted commitment on the part of Departments or their Ministers, proper consultation with other public bodies, or adequate consideration of the staffing and resource implications.

The Commons Select Committee on Public Administration held an inquiry in spring 1998 and published a report (HC 398, 19 May 1998) welcoming the White Paper proposals. Its main concern was the overlap between the proposed FoI and Data Protection regimes (see below), and the exclusion of law enforcement information. The Government published its response to the Select Committee on 21 July 1998 (HC 1020).

Ten days later David Clark was sacked in Blair's first reshuffle, and responsibility for FoI was transferred from the Cabinet Office to the Home Office. This unexpected transfer led to further delay in preparation of the draft bill, originally promised for spring 1998, as a new team of Ministers and officials came to grips with the issues. The draft bill was promised for autumn 1998, then December, then February, and eventually was published by the Home Office in May 1999 (Cm 4355). This was accompanied by a Consultation Document (Part I); and followed by a volume of Background Material (June 1999).

Draft Freedom of Information Bill (May 1999)

The draft bill represented a major retreat from the White Paper proposals. The new Ministerial team (Jack Straw supported by his Minister of State Lord Williams of Mostyn) were not FoI enthusiasts and were supported by Whitehall departments that had finally woken up and argued for a much tighter regime. This was reflected in the exemption provisions, which abandoned the 'substantial harm' test, included a large number of class exemptions with very broad exemptions for policy advice on information about investigations and for commercial information, and proposed a power to create new exemptions by ministerial order. Under this scheme, the Information Commissioner would no longer have power to order disclosure and in place of an overriding public interest test authorities would merely have to consider the release of exempt information on a discretionary basis.

The draft bill was the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny by two parliamentary committees in summer 1999. The House of Lords established an ad hoc Select Committee, chaired by Lord Archer of Sandwell (HL 97, 27 July 1999). In the Commons the draft bill was scrutinised by the Public Administration Select Committee (HC 570, 28 July). Both committees were strongly critical of the draft bill. The Commons report recommended six key improvements:

  • a purpose clause stating a clear presumption in favour of
  • less emphasis on discretionary disclosure
  • review of the public interest by the Information Commissioner
  • narrow and precise exemptions
  • a statutory duty to help requesters
  • a duty to consult third party suppliers of information, and a right of appeal for them against disclosure

Both committees rejected the draft bill's class exemption for policy advice, and the breadth of the exemption for commercial information. They also pressed for a general statutory duty to give reasons upon request for administrative decisions, as had been promised in the White Paper.

The Constitution Unit's Commentary on the draft FoI Bill (July 1999) compared it with the FoI regimes in Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand, and found it to be a highly restrictive bill by international standards. No systematic attempt had been made to learn the lessons from overseas. The bill had erected a Maginot line... : the central lesson from overseas was that for ease of administration, administrative defences and a robust charging regime were more important than exemption provisions.

The government response to the parliamentary Committees was published on 27 October 1999 (HC 831).It gave little ground - so little that the Public Administration Select Committee published a rejoinder on 9 November (HC 925). It said that the government had removed those elements which were particularly objectionable, but a number of fundamental difficulties remained. In particular:

  • there was still no clear presumption in favour of disclosure
  • the Commissioner would not be able to override an authority's decision not to release information in the public interest
  • there were too many class-based exemptions acting as blanket restrictions
  • the test in harm-based exemptions should be one of substantial harm
  • the exemptions remained too broad, in particular those for policy advice and commercial interests.

Home Office Advisory Group (December 1999)

In December 1999, Mike O'Brien published the report of the Home Office Advisory Group on Openness in the Public Sector. The report recommended a major publicity campaign, pilot schemes to encourage the proactive release of information, preparation of record-keeping systems for FoI, and training to ensure staff had the skills and confidence to adopt a more open approach. The Group also encouraged public authorities to begin planning immediately for the implementation of FoI rather than wait until the legislation had been passed.

Freedom of Information Bill (December 1999)

The FoI Bill was introduced and had its First Reading in the House of Commons on 18 November 1999. The Second Reading debate was on 7 December. On the exemption for policy advice, Home Secretary Jack Straw MP said he had not closed the door on efforts to find a way to enable background information to Ministers to be published without compromising advice on policy. Leading for the government in the Commons was its junior Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien MP, who took over FoI when Lord Williams became Attorney General in July 1999. The Bill suffered five backbench revolts during Commons report stage, with government concessions to increase the powers of the Information Commissioner and restrict the use of the veto. The bill was introduced in the Lords in April 2000, but did not start its Committee stage until November. The government made further minor concessions during the Bill's passage through the Lords. The bill became law on 1 December 2000.

Implementation of Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Home Office plan was for implementation of the Act to be in five waves, starting in summer 2002 with central government and those public bodies already subject to the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. Local government would come next; then police, the health service and education; then all other public bodies; then any remaining public authorities. This proposed timetable had not gained the collective approval of all Ministers before the election was called.

June 2001

Labour's 2001 manifesto was silent on freedom of information, which is not recorded among the achievements of Blair's first term. In a surprise development after the 2001 election, it was announced on 8 June that the policy lead on FoI and Data Protection was to be transferred from the Home Office to the Lord Chancellor's Department, as was human rights. So the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, became the lead Minister. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary supporting him on FoI was Michael Wills MP. He was also responsible for Data Protection and identity, and IT and e-government. The Public Record Office, however, came under his fellow Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Rosie Winterton MP.

The FoI and Data Protection Unit were led by Lee Hughes, who transferred with his staff to the Lord Chancellor's Department. Their first task was to put to Ministers a revised implementation timetable for central government and all other public authorities.

July 2002

On 13 November 2001 the FoI Act implementation timetable was announced to the House of Lords. To the disappointment of many, the individual rights of access were not scheduled to come fully into force until January 2005. The publication scheme provisions of the Act were to be implemented on a rolling programme starting with central government in November 2002.

Programme for activation of publications schemes:

  • Central Government November 2002
  • Local Government February 2003
  • Police and Prosecuting Bodies June 2003
  • National Health Service October 2003
  • Education February 2004
  • Other public bodies June 2004

On 29 November 2001 the Lord Chancellor laid before Parliament the first report on proposals for implementing the Freedom of Information Act. Two interdepartmental officials' groups were established and the Lord Chancellor enlisted the help of an Advisory Committee on implementation. Initial work on the secondary legislation and codes of practice required under the Act was undertaken by the Lord Chancellor's Department. The Department circulated a draft of the Section 45 Code of Practice which gave guidance to authorities on how to carry out their functions under the Act. The Public Records Office developed a working draft of the Section 46 Code of Practice on records management. A draft of the fees regulations was circulated to departments in October 2001. The draft regulations anticipated a maximum fee of 10% of prescribed costs.

The Information Commissioner issued guidance on publication schemes in February 2002. The guidance was in three parts and included an approval schedule setting out when public authorities must submit a draft publication scheme to the Information Commissioner.

On 29 May 2002 Yvette Cooper MP was appointed Parliamentary Secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department with responsibility for Freedom of Information and Data Protection. Elizabeth France retired as Information Commissioner in August. Her replacement was Richard Thomas, who was a partner at Clifford Chance at the time.
Until the Act comes fully into force, the Code will continue to govern access to government information. It is enforced by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Sir Michael Buckley retired as Ombudsman in 2002 and was replaced by Ann Abraham, a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

December 2002

The public face of freedom of information during the second half of 2002 was the preparation and approval of central and local government publication schemes under section 19 of the FoI Act. Of note was the Lord Chancellor's Department's (now DCA) own publication scheme.

The Freedom of Information (Commencement No. 2) Order 2002 brought into force the Commissioner's powers to enforce the publication scheme provisions. The Commissioner can revoke approval of a scheme on six months notice and issue a practice notice backed up with an enforcement notice enforceable in the High Court.

A significant amount of work also took place behind the scenes setting up the relevant structures to coordinate the implementation of the Act and make the necessary commencement orders and secondary legislation to complete the legislative framework. The Lord Chancellor issued his second Annual report to Parliament on progress, which included details of secondary legislation, examples of good practice in public authorities and the timetable for the lead up to January 2005. The report also detailed the existing rights of access to information held by public authorities and set out in full the provisions of the Open Government Code (which applies to central government and NDPBs) and the Code of Practice on Openness in the NHS (1995).

Codes of Practice were issued under section 45 and 46 of the Act. The section 45 Code sets out the practice which public authorities should follow when dealing with requests for information and other matters including how they should provide for openness in contracts they sign. The Section 46 Code sets out practices authorities should follow in managing their records.

The Ombudsman released her Report on Open Government Code investigations completed between May and October 2002. The investigation reports helped public authorities prepare for January 2005. The FoI Act provisions are broadly similar to the Code and the sorts of issues that arise under the Code provisions will continue to arise under the Act.

September 2003

Richard Thomas was appointed the Information Commissioner in December 2002. He stated publicly that his top priority is to reform the Office of the Information Commissioner from a mature Data Protection organisation to a leading freedom of information organisation.
A number of steps forward were made towards this end. Bob Turnbull ( Scotland), Anne Jones ( Wales) and Marie Anderson ( Northern Ireland) were appointed as assistant Commissioners. The ICO published a project plan for work on FoI between June 2003 and December 2004 promising the publication of a number of pieces of guidance. The first, introductory guidance on the FoI Act was published in June 2003 and can be found on the Commissioner's website, along with the plan for further guidance.

Within Government, officials dealing with Freedom of Information and Data Protection are situated with the new Department for Constitutional Affairs with Lord Filkin MP responsible for access to information. Lord Filkin's stated his stance on the subject in a speech: "You can't have an Act of Citizenship and you can't have democratic renewal unless you have Freedom of Information and access to information. And that's why, therefore, we see this as an essential component, both of the modernisation of public services and of the mindset of public service politicians and public service officials."

Meanwhile, public authorities continued their preparations for implementation with the deadlines for producing publication schemes rolling on through 2003. All local authorities schemes went live in February 2003, the Police, Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office and the Armed Forces went live in June 2003 with the NHS, Education and all other public authorities by 2004. The FoI Act allows for the addition of public bodies as subject to the Act by Order in Parliament. On 21 July, a further 48 public bodies became subject to the Act. These included some significant organisations such as the Learning and Skills Council for England and the Financial Services Authority.

The Freedom of Information ( Scotland) Act 2002 received Royal Assent on 28 May 2002. Kevin Dunion was appointed as the Scottish Information Commissioner in February 2003. The legislation required that FoI be in force by 31 December 2005. However, the Scottish Executive's timetable for implementation was drawn up to bring about full implementation by 1 January 2005-the same date as the UK legislation.
Frustration with the current access to information regime, however, continued. Ann Abraham, the new Parliamentary Ombudsman, published her first report on investigations under the Open Government Code on 10 July 2003. She was critical of the Government's continuing non-compliance with her during investigations and even considered whether to withdraw from her role of monitoring the Code. In an attempt to resolve these difficulties, the Ombudsman agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with the Cabinet Office to be circulated to all government departments, which reminded the departments of their obligations under the Code.

November 2003

Work on preparing for full implementation of the FoI Act intensified in the last quarter of 2003. During this time, many public authorities were still focused on preparing publication schemes. Health Sector publications schemes were approved by the Information Commissioner in October 2003, and the Education Sector and "other public bodies" prepared for schemes to go live in February 2004.

Those with responsibility for implementing FoI increased their efforts to make guidance available to the public sector. The Information Commissioner's Office published guidance on the request process and guidance on specific sections of the legislation. The Office began detailed work on a case-management system. The Department for Constitutional Affairs established a project board to oversee the monitoring of tasks related to the implementation of the Act.

On 11 November 2003 the Home Secretary announced to Parliament that the Government had decided in principle to introduce a national identity card scheme. Draft legislation to lay the foundations of the scheme was included in the Queen's Speech. The government stated that it wished to proceed incrementally. Phase one would include issuing biometric identifiers through the renewal of passport and driving licences. As soon as a database is available, identity cards will be issued to EU and foreign nationals seeking to remain in the country. The cards will include basic personal information, a digital photo and a 'biometric' which could include facial recognition, iris scans or fingerprints.

This phase could then be followed by a move to a compulsory card scheme in which it would be compulsory to have a card, but not to carry one, and to produce a card to access public services in ways defined by those services. The legislation will allow the cards scheme to be used by any service, public or private, to establish identity with the consent of the cardholder, but with strict limits on the information available.

In his statement to Parliament Blunkett stated that "privacy and confidentiality would be an essential part of the system". The cards will be linked to a national secure database which will contain data from the card and be able to use the biometric data to confirm identity. The database would be built from scratch as people are issued with the cards and would not rely solely on other sources of data which may have historical or other errors. However, before an entry is confirmed, it would be checked against other databases such as passports, driving licences and immigration records. The police and other organisations will not have routine access to data stored on the National Identity Register.

Freedom of Information and Data Protection

The policy on FoI has had to fit alongside the new Data Protection requirements flowing from the EC Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC). Because of the obligation to comply with the directive by October 1998, planning for Data Protection was better advanced, and Data Protection has led the way throughout. The Home Office issued a Consultation Paper in March 1996 and a White Paper on Data Protection: The Government's Proposals (Cm 3725, July 1997) soon after the election. The Data Protection Bill was introduced in the Lords in January 1998, and became law in July 1998, almost a year before publication of the draft FoI bill.

The policy on FoI has lagged behind and government thinking has significantly changed on how the two regimes should interact. The FoI White Paper proposed overlapping regimes, with an individual being able to request access to personal files under either the Data Protection or FoI Act (Cm 3818 paras 4.5-6). The draft bill exempted most 'personal data' from the FoI provisions, so that subject access by an individual to his/her personal information would only be under the Data Protection Act. The bill also departed from the White Paper in combining the roles of Information Commissioner and Data Protection Commissioner. The current Data Protection Registrar, Elizabeth France, has questioned whether the FoI/Data Protection interface would be unnecessarily complicated in practice (see House of Commons Library Research Paper 99/99: The FoI Bill Data Protection Issues).

Freedom of Information in Scotland

From July 1999 the Scottish Executive introduced a non-statutory Code of Practice on Access to Scottish Executive Information (available on their website, www.scotland.gov.uk). This was based closely on the UK Code of Practice (2nd edn. 1997). In November of the same year, the Justice Minister Jim Wallace published An Open Scotland: Freedom of Information - A Consultation (SE/1999/51; Stationery Office, Edinburgh). It proposed a tighter exemption regime than the UK bill, and a Commissioner with powers to order disclosure in the public interest. The consultation period ended in March 2000. In March 2001 the Scottish Executive published Freedom of Information: Consultation on Draft Legislation, SE 2001/65, ISBN 1842689037. The draft bill contained a stronger harm test ('substantial prejudice') and a stronger public interest test than the UK FoI Act. In other respects it is closer to the UK Act than had been expected. This is because the Scottish Executive accepted that there should be a common access regime for information supplied to them by the UK government (to prevent Scotland being a 'back door' for requesters denied access by the UK government, and then seeking the same information in Scotland).

Freedom of information in Wales

In March 2000 the new First Secretary Rhodri Morgan started to publish minutes of Welsh Cabinet meetings six weeks after they were held. The Assembly also issued a consultation paper on a new FoI Code of Practice in Wales.

History of DP

The development of Data Protection in Britain

The development of Data Protection in the UK can be traced back to the 1970's. Several attempts by private members to introduce legislation in the 1960's were unsuccessful, but the 1970's saw the publication of the Younger Report on Privacy (1972) and the Lindop Report on Data Protection (1978).

Both reports examined the risks to privacy posed by the growth in the use of computers to process personal information. It was Sir Kenneth Younger, however, who first formulated the general principles of Data Protection, which provide a basic standard for all Data Protection legislation today.

The Council of Europe and the OECD

The impetus for the government to introduce Data Protection legislation in the UK came with the publication of two international legal instruments on Data Protection in the early 1980's: the OECD Guidelines in 1980 and the Council of Europe Convention in 1981.

The Council of Europe Convention was particularly influential. It provided for the free movement of personal data between countries that had ratified the Convention with restrictions potentially being placed on the movement of data outside that group. Only countries whose domestic law provided equivalent safeguards to those defined in the Convention could ratify.

The Council of Europe Convention makes clear that its objective is to balance the need to provide for the movement of personal data with the need to protect personal privacy. The starting point in drafting the Convention was the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), particularly Articles 8 and 10, but the Council of Europe identified the need for a specific convention to deal with the risks posed by computer processing rather than rely solely on those general principles.

The Data Protection Act 1984

The Conservative administration in the UK, concerned more with the impact that the Council of Europe Convention would have on business than with any desire to protect personal privacy, introduced a Data Protection bill in 1982. The bill did not complete its passage through parliament before the general election in 1983, but was reintroduced after the election and reached the statute book in July of that year as the Data Protection Act 1984.

The 1984 Act adopted the general principles in the Council of Europe Convention and the OECD Guidelines (and indeed from the Younger report) and built a regulatory framework around them. At the heart, it was a public register of those organisations in both the public and private sectors that processed personal data, administered by an official known as the Data Protection Registrar, who was given powers of enforcement. The Act established new rights for individuals, the most important of which were the right to know if an organisation was processing personal data about them and the right to have a copy of the information (the right of subject access). Individuals also had a right to complain to the Registrar.

The 1984 Act was limited in its effect. It applied only to data stored on a computer, the enforcement regime was cumbersome and linked too closely to the register, and there was no recognition of Data Protection as a privacy matter. Nevertheless, the Registrar and the Data Protection Tribunal (another creation of the Act) gradually established a jurisprudence that significantly improved standards of processing of personal data, particularly in interpreting the general principle of fairness to require transparency by data users and a degree of control by individuals.

The EU Directive

In 1990, the European Commission, pursuing the single market objective and concerned that the free movement of data within the EU boundaries could be inhibited because standards of Data Protection were widely different across member states (some member states having no relevant legislation at all), published a draft directive as one of six proposed measures.

The process of negotiation on the draft was long and led to many changes before the directive was adopted in 1995. Throughout the negotiations, the Conservative government in the UK was hostile, arguing that there was no need for a directive at all. As a result, UK influence is little reflected in the final text.

The directive does, overall, set relatively high Data Protection standards. Indeed, one of the objectives is that it should lead to no diminution in the level of protection already provided in any existing national law. It also establishes explicitly the link between Data Protection and personal privacy. Nevertheless, it is an unhappy mixture of broad general principles and detailed prescriptive measures, many of which reflect the domestic interests of particular member states.

The directive was formally approved in the European Council on 24 October 1995 (Directive 95/46/EC). The UK abstained in the vote. Member states were given three years from that date to implement the directive in their domestic law.

The Data Protection Act 1998

An important issue was whether the directive should be implemented by primary or secondary legislation. Respondents to the consultation, including the Data Protection Registrar, were overwhelmingly in favour of primary legislation, largely because of their desire to have a single overall Data Protection framework and to avoid the complexities of the dual regime that would be the outcome if the existing Data Protection Act 1984 were not repealed. It is doubtful, though, that the government was convinced.

The change of government in May 1997 heralded a new approach. In July 1997, the new Labour government published a White Paper making it clear that there would be primary legislation and placing Data Protection firmly on the government's human rights agenda. In January 1998, the Data Protection Bill was introduced in the House of Lords. Speaking at second reading, Lord Williams of Mostyn (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Office) said: "It [Data Protection] shares common ground to that extent with the Human Rights Bill. That Bill will improve the position of citizens of this country by enabling them to rely on the wide range of civil and political rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. Those rights include the right to respect for private and family life. The Data Protection Bill also concerns privacy, albeit a specific form of privacy: personal information privacy. The subject matter of the Bill is, therefore, inherently important to our general social welfare."

The Bill received Royal Assent on 16 July 1998 as the Data Protection Act 1998. The Act faithfully transposes the provisions of the EC directive into UK law, but does little to resolve the practical difficulties arising from some of the directive's more incongruous provisions. Much of the detail was left to secondary legislation, which meant that no fewer than 17 Statutory Instruments were needed before commencement. These ranged from the commencement order itself to detailed regulations on notification, to name one example.

The Act eventually entered into force on 1 March 2000. Transitional arrangements limited its effect on existing processing until 24 October 2001.

The main features of the Data Protection Act 1998 are:

  • the retention of a set of general principles as the basis for regulation, broadly similar to those in the 1984 Act
  • the introduction of specific conditions to legitimise processing with more stringent conditions for sensitive data
  • the broadening of the definition of personal data to include some categories of manual data
  • the retention of the right of subject access and the broadening of other rights of individuals
  • the consolidation of rights of access under other legislation (to records on health, education, housing and social services)
  • the retention of a register of data controllers but with more exemptions and a simpler process for registration (now called notification)
  • the de-coupling of enforcement from registration
  • the retention of a supervisory authority, the Data Protection Commissioner (later renamed the Information Commissioner), with increased powers of enforcement
  • the retention of the Data Protection Tribunal (later renamed the Information Tribunal)

Useful websites for information and advice

The Legislation


  • The Information Commissioner's Office  The ICO is the UK's independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals
  • The Ministry of Justice The MOJ is the lead department for the implementation of FOI policy across the public sector
  • The Transparency Board  Chaired by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, the Board is responsible for setting open data standards across the public sector and developing the legal Right to Data
  • The Campaign for Freedom of Information  Established in 1984, CFOI played a key role in the passing of the FOI Act 2000, and continues to be a leading independent authority on public access to information in the UK
  • Right2Info  A resource which brings together information on the constitutional and legal framework for the right of access to information, as well case law, from more than 80 countries organised by topic
  • Open Society Justice Initiative  Part of the Open Society Institute, OSJI works to support the adoption, implementation, and improvement of freedom of information laws and freedom of expression
  • WhatDoTheyKnow Run by MySociety, WDTK allows users to make FOI requests to any public authority in Britain through their site.


  • Open Secrets  A blog about FOI decisions and policy, by the BBC's Martin Rosenbaum
  • FOI News Edited by journalist Matthew Davis, the blog covers FOI news, policy updates and jobs in the information sector