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Govt agencies should release information voluntarily

Government agencies should be encouraged to voluntarily release official information rather than forcing people to make requests through the Official Information Act (OIA), the Law Commission says.The Law Commission has released an issues paper as part of

NZPA
Thu, 30 Sep 2010

Government agencies should be encouraged to voluntarily release official information rather than forcing people to make requests through the Official Information Act (OIA), the Law Commission says.

The Law Commission has released an issues paper as part of its review of the OIA and parts of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

The review was looking at which agencies were subject to the OIA and the types of information covered by it.

The Law Commission suggested all agencies subject to the OIA should be listed in the act and that state owned enterprises and the Parliamentary Counsel Office should be covered.

In the issues paper, acting president Warren Young said the acts were based on the belief that official information should be made available unless there was a good reason for withholding it.

A change to that basic philosophy was not the intention of the review, he said.

The acts had achieved their purpose and changed the culture around official information which was now much more open.

"However, this is not to say that there are no problems," Dr Young said.

Some of the grounds for withholding information were difficult to apply and compliance could involve the use of considerable resources, he said.

There was an international trend toward the proactive release of information, especially in the new technological age.

"When the OIA was enacted, official information was mainly in the form of hard copy documents. Since then the digital information revolution has vastly increased the volume of information that can be produced, collected and stored," the paper said.

"There is now a much stronger expectation of openness and availability of information than in the past, people have become more suspicious of any government activity that takes place in secret."

The paper recommended agencies be required to take reasonably practicable steps to proactively make information publicly available.

People who put in requests that were too broad should be contacted and asked to narrow them down and charging for large requests should be uniform, it said.

Requesters could also be required to explain why they want the information which would highlight vexatious requesters who could be blocked from making requests.

No new categories for withholding were needed and current allowances for good government and protecting commercial interests were important.

"The ability of the government to govern requires some room for deliberation in private to develop and consider ideas without fear of adverse consequence."

The provisions for privacy should be looked at and whether they should be maintained for deceased people.

Some agencies withheld information under the guise that the information would be publicly released soon.

"We are satisfied from some of the responses to our survey that this is misused by some agencies to delay the release of information for an unreasonable time," the paper said.

Public interest was an overriding factor for any withholding grounds but people found it difficult to apply the test, it said.

Submissions on the paper are open until December 10.

NZPA
Thu, 30 Sep 2010
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Govt agencies should release information voluntarily
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