Press release

Cabinet Office launches open consultation on FOI data-release guidelines

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Cabinet Office has launched an open consultation on new guidance on how to handle Freedom of Information requests.

As part of its drive to enhance the right to data, the Cabinet Office has launched an open consultation on new guidance for public authorities on how to handle Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for the release of datasets.

The guidance will complement new provisions governing the release of data in the FOI Act, which are planned to come into force in April 2013, giving public authorities time to prepare for their new duties.

Members of the public can already request datasets under the FOI Act. However, the amended act brings together all provisions for the disclosure, use and re-use of data, and the new guidance will clarify what is expected of public authorities undertaking their new duties.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said:

Enhancing the right to data is a key driver of our transparency agenda, so we have amended the Freedom of Information Act to ensure that public authorities publish datasets for re-use and in a re-useable format. To help them meet these new obligations, public authorities must have the best possible guidance. The open online consultation invites feedback on how we can improve the draft code of practice that authorities will use.

The prize - as well as ensuring we deliver better value for money in public spending - is to drive real social and economic benefits by making it as easy as possible for businesses and other organisations to exploit datasets held by public authorities.

The draft Code of Practice (datasets) aims to make clear what is meant by the terms set out in the new provisions in the FOI Act, such as “an electronic form which is capable of re-use”, or a “re-usable format”. Over the last few months, the Cabinet Office has prepared this draft alongside the Ministry of Justice, the National Archives and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The online consultation fulfils an Open Data White Paper commitment to open up the process of developing guidance to the public.

The online consultation tool employs an open approach, based on crowd-sourcing principles. As well as allowing responders to comment on each section of the draft code, it lets them see what other users are suggesting and have a “conversation” with them in real time as to whether a particular paragraph, sentence or term in the draft code of practice could be improved.

The traditional email route for submissions is also available, and all contributions should be made by 10 January 2013.

The new Code of Practice (datasets) will sit alongside the existing Section 45 Code of Practice for the Freedom of Information Act.

The changes the government put forward last year to the Freedom of Information Act, through the Protection of Freedoms Act, received Royal Assent in May 2012. [Read these amendments.] (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/9/section/102/enacted)

Together with the Open Government Licence, which the draft Code of Practice encourages public authorities to use, and the Non-Commercial Government Licence, a new licence has been drafted for potential use by public authorities that have reason to charge for the re-use of datasets they hold or produce. This new licence, with the working title the “Charged Licence”, will form a suite of “specified licences” provided for in the new datasets provisions of the FOI Act. The National Archives has published the licence in beta form and welcome comments as to whether its terms and conditions adequately meet the requirements of licensors and re-users, as well as feedback on the working title of the new licence. Any comments should be sent to the Information Policy Team at psi@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk by 10 January 2013.