Information v Records: the wind of change?

Jeremy Phillips

The UK’s Justice Minister Michael Wills has announced plans to ensure that more public information is made available and preserved for future generations. These plans take the form of a new Code of Practice on managing digital and other records, plus extension of the Freedom of Information Act. According to the news release:

“Freedom of Information depends on good record keeping and the preservation of information is important if we are to further increase transparency in public life. The updated Code of Practice is a significant step in ensuring that key records remain accessible to public bodies for day to day business and are preserved for future generations. The Code recommends public bodies across the country introduce a strategy for the preservation of digital records to ensure that they can continue to be accessed and used and are resilient to future changes in technology.

The government has also published its response to the consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act. The government’s response reflects the considerable support for extending the Act. A further consultation will now be undertaken with those proposed for inclusion within the scope of the Act: Academies, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

This is an initial step and further consultations with Network Rail and utility companies will examine how the Freedom of Information Act could apply to other bodies.

These publications support the government’s plans to increase the accessibility of public information and promote the culture of openness and transparency in public life. On 10 June the Prime Minister committed to a reduction of the 30 year rule to 20 years in response to the 30 Year Rule Review. The government is considering carefully the practical details of implementing a new rule and aims to publish its full response in late summer …”

Datonomy is, as ever, fascinated by the way in which personal information is pulled between the opposing poles of data protection and freedom of information, with public interest acting as the gravitational force that each exerts in turn. Somehow it seems that, psychologically and politically, “information” should remain protected unless the trigger for its release is pressed, while “records” should be disclosed unless there is a good reason for keeping them secret. The trouble is that “information” tends to be kept in “records” — so will the government, in seeking the right balance, throw caution to the winds?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *