British Government's secrecy culture blocks freedom of information

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THE operation of the Freedom of Information Act is in severe difficulties because of a mounting backlog of appeals against Government secrecy. The Information Commissioner’s Office, which handles complaints from people whose open government requests are refused, is struggling to cope with more than 1,200 unresolved cases.

More than half of those appeals have yet to be allocated to a caseworker. The Times is aware of cases that have been with the commissioner for three months without any action being taken. The soaring number of appeals to the watchdog is due, in part, to the work of a Whitehall unit called the Central Clearing House.

Concern is growing that the unit is bent on blocking as many requests for information as it can. Only this week it told civil servants that they could chose to “neither confirm nor deny” whether their departments even hold information that has been requested by the public.

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