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Victory for whatdotheyknow website

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Martin Rosenbaum | 16:28 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A new decision this week by the Information Commissioner's Office represents a significant victory for the FOI requesters' website in its battles with the few public authorities that object to its mode of operation - in this case, the House of Commons.

Screenshot whatdotheyknow siteThe ICO has ruled [58.61KB PDF] that the House has to comply with a freedom of information request submitted through whatdotheyknow, even though it means that its response will be automatically published on that website.

The request, submitted in July 2008 by Francis Irving, was for documents on the possible deployment of electronic petitioning systems in Parliament.

The Commons told Mr Irving that it could send him material directly by e-mail, but it would not respond through the whatdotheyknow system because the automatic web publication of its reply would breach Parliamentary copyright.

After an internal review of its refusal, the Commons later offered [2.52MB PDF] to supply information through whatdotheyknow if the website publishers agreed to sign a licence for reproduction of Parliamentary documents.

This included the requirement "not to reproduce material for the purposes of disparaging either House or bringing it into disrepute". However, mySociety, the publishers of whatdotheyknow, refused to accept the principle of the licence or its detailed provisions.

Last November Mr Irving, who works on whatdotheyknow, complained to the Information Commissioner about the House of Commons' refusal to comply with his FOI application in the manner he requested.

On Monday the ICO instructed the House to send the information through whatdotheyknow within 35 days, unless it decides to appeal.

The House of Commons is not the only public authority which is uneasy about whatdotheyknow. Brent Council also refuses to respond to requests through the website on the grounds that it would breach copyright. It is the subject of similar complaints to the ICO.


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