The UK has a new Freedom of Information Act. It used to be that you had to wait 30 years to get access to public documents, but now (or as of the beginning of the new year), in the words of Lady Ashton, the UK minister responsible for public records, “you will be able to request information and be given it as long as exemptions do not apply.” Those exemptions involve things you would expect, like national security or commercial secrets.
Now that access to public information in the UK has supposedly greatly widened, how are people taking advantage of that? The Guardian newspaper itself is pushing to get the legal advice given Tony Blair about whether Britain could join the United States in its attack on Iraq, according to international law, but indications are that request that will be blocked. And over Christmas, operatives of an opposition party, the Conservatives (these days it’s controversial whether they merit the label “the leading opposition party”), had great fun coming up with 120 “embarrassing questions” they want to pose to Tony Blair’s Labour government, i.e. to get information shedding further light on various awkward episodes in that government’s seven-year term in power such as its change-of-mind allowing a referendum on the EU Constitution when previously it had refused. (more…)