Censorship by the back door?

New-look FoI disclosure log

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A frequent user of the Freedom of Information Act says he is concerned that a new look searchable database will allow ’censorship by the back door’.

David Watts, who has submitted a number of FoI requests in relation to school performance and policing matters, says a number of responses that were previously published are no longer there.

And he says the reply to his most recent request, about fixed penalty notices issued by the police, has yet to be published.

The new searchable database went live the week before last, replacing the old disclosure log where all responses were published as they came in, listed by department.

But people have reported the new system being difficult to use, while some responses have failed to be go on-line, although more are now starting to appear.

A note on the website says publication is on a ’discretionary basis’ and only if there is a wider public interest.

But government minister Chris Thomas MHK insists there has been no change in policy.

Mr Watts said: ’The new disclosure log highlights that publication of responses will be on a discretionary basis and boldly states that the responses will not be published "where we consider that the FoI request relates to a private interest rather than the wider public interest"

’This begs the question who determines what is in the wider public interest? How is such a term defined?

’Will it become a subtle way of allowing censorship by the back door and where the response will embarrass or highlight failings in a government department?’

Results to recent Isle of Man Newspapers’ FoI submissions are also missing.

Mr Watts, who is concerned about a growing problem of anti-social behaviour in his home town of Castletown, asked for details of fixed penalty notices issued by police last year.

The response shows there were a total of 418 endorsable and 69 non-endorsable fixed penalty notices.

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