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Parliament begins its review of the FOI act tomorrow

Credit: alancleaver_2000 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Freedom of Information (FOI) supporters have unveiled a new campaign to "save" the FOI act and resist attempts to water down the law, ahead of a parliamentary review that starts this week.

The Save FOI campaign launch comes as the justice select committee begins its review into how well the act is working, seven years after it came into force. It will start hearing evidence on Tuesday.

Written evidence published by the committee reveals many public authorities are in favour of charging a fee for requests, adding new exemptions or tightening up the cost cap applied by authorities when assessing whether to reply to a request for information.

A wide range of news organisations have also submitted comments to the committee, defending the act and complaining of delays, obstructions and the over-use of exemptions to justify not releasing information.

The new FOI campaign website says: "A number of us feel strongly enough about this that we have decided to launch a campaign to #saveFOI. Some of us are those who use the Act, but some of us actually work within public authorities but believe that FOI is valuable and beginning to make a positive impact."

FOI officer Paul Gibbons, who is behind the campaign, wrote on his blog: "What is striking about this evidence is how many public authorities have called for restrictive amendments to the Freedom of Information Act.

"Some have called for charging to be introduced. Some have suggested that the cost limit for answering requests should be brought down, so that more demanding requests can be refused. Others have even suggested bringing in whole new exemptions for information that they hold.

He added: "The overall benefits, whilst difficult to quantify in hard numbers, far outweigh the problems. It has forced public authorities to open up in a way that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.

"The UK doesn't exist in isolation. Countries across the globe are adopting FOI legislation. As Nigeria and the Philippines debate the opening up of their governments, is it right that the UK can be considering reducing the rights of its citizens?"

In an interview with the Observer, information commissioner Christopher Graham said many of the arguments against the Freedom of Information Act were "nonsense".

He said: "On FOI, a chorus of distinguished Whitehall insiders would have us believe, against all the evidence, that the act threatens good government because nobody dares to write anything down any more.

"But it's nonsense to say that FOIA threatens to make public what really ought to remain secret for 30 years (shortly to be 20 years)."

The first session in the justice select committee review will include evidence from Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

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