The Information Commissioner has called the government’s commitment to openness and transparency into question, saying that its stance on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) makes it hard to take its rhetoric on open data seriously.
Christopher Graham made the remark in testimony given to the Justice Select Committee’s investigation into the FOIA, which was passed in 2000.
His defence of the FOIA was prompted by remarks from David Cameron, who told the cross-party Commons Liaison Committee that the FOIA "furs up" the arteries of government.
"Publication of information is better than the discovery process which I think does fur up the arteries on occasions," Cameron said. "It seems to me that real freedom of information is the money that goes in and the results that come out."
Former secretary of the Cabinet Office, Gus O’Donnell is also a critic of the Act, and has called for it to be changed to allow Cabinet discussions to remain private.
Graham told MPs that there was "a problem with the suggestion that everything has got to be on the authorities’ terms."
"I find it rather difficult to square all the talk about openness and transparency with a slightly grudging approach to the mechanics of the Freedom of Information Act," he told the committee.
Graham said the practice of back-channel communication between government and advisers, which are only hazily covered by the FOIA, "could become quite serious". The NHS’ risk assessment of its controversial reforms is one such piece of communication, as are the emails of Education Secretary Michael Gove, who used a private email account to discuss Government business with special advisers.