FOI: Treasure trove for investigative types
New figures from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister – babysat by Lord Rooker as it patient waits for new masters – reveal that government departments in the province received 716 FOI requests in the fourth quarter of 2005.
Readers may wonder what relevance this has to students. Well, the Freedom of Information Act gives anyone, anywhere in the world a right to access information from the civil service, schools, health trusts etc. and even universities. Letters and emails asking for info should be replied to within 20 (working) days and providing replies and photocopies is free – within reason.
Authorities may withhold information, though, and sometimes for good reasons. The right to know would naturally be abused if personal details were released. When it comes to security and foreign affairs, the Government are reluctant to give out too much as seen by the furore over releasing the Attorney-General’s advice over the Iraq War. Other interesting topics investigated range from how much civil servants spend on hospitality to contingency plans if a tsunami hit Britain.
Research shows that students are actually interested in politics and it seems that the environment, defence and international development are among the most popular causes.
The Act should provide a happy hunting ground for amateur investigators to find out if – or how often – the wool is being pulled over our eyes by people in high places. Public scrutiny in a democracy has just become easier, optimists say, while others may fear that it could become a free-for-all in a society that increasingly demands a right to know everything it wants to know at any cost.
Find out more about Queen’s University’s Freedom of Information section, also including the Students’ Union, at:
More information can be found at: