UK Ministry of Justice found tracking journalists who make information requests

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A Times investigation on Saturday revealed that the Ministry of Justice tracks journalists who request information. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), and Freedom of Information (Scotland Act) protect the right of UK citizens to access and request information from public authorities. UK public authorities are required by law to respond to all requests for information. According to the Times’ report, a Times reporter made a subject access request and discovered the documents of background profiles on journalists that make freedom of information requests, which was compiled by Ministry of Justice officials.

The report details evidence that there is an apparent delay of the release of data ‘until clearance is given by political appointees’. According to emails obtained during the investigation, press officers and Conservative appointees were given the authority to decide whether disclosures could be made. Reporters are also given background notes. George Greenwood is one of these reporters. He was a Times reporter who revealed last year that a secret Whitehall clearing house which screens requests for information shared the personal information of journalists who accessed information under the FOIA. Experts Claire Miller and Martin Rosenbaum, however, stated that the UK Government is “giving fewer and less transparency responses and doing so more slowly”. Rosenbaum, who also commented to the Times on the matter, said that the Ministry’s measures are not legal and objectionable. He said that compiling background information on requesters was a misused government resource and allowed political influence, which shouldn’t affect the freedom-of-information process. This unit is said to spy on political dissidents and suppress free speech online. Lord Clark, the leading author of the FOIA, made a call for a parliamentary review after ‘serious data breaches by police forces in responses to FOI requests’.

The Times report suggests that the underfunding of the Information Commissioner’s Office may be a reason for the alarming treatment of FOI rights, as it is tasked with holding the government office accountable. The Times report suggests that the underfunding of the Information Commissioner’s Office may be a reason for the alarming treatment of FOI rights, as it is tasked with holding government office accountable.