Hello, and welcome to another week.
Freedom of Information requests have become incredibly popular since the service’s inception in 2005, as more and more people use these requests to hold the government to account over suspected failings within public service. But a new type of request is becoming popular – those requests made by corporations to elicit information about their target markets.
In a very interesting news item over at one of our favourite online journals The Conversation, one Research Team describe their two year fight to protect their research on the smoking habits of teenagers from tobacco giant Philip Morris – who made a Freedom of Information request for the data, so they could access it. Legally, the company was allowed to access that information – but the media’s reporting of the request and public pressure eventually put an end to the request being pursued.
Philip Morris say they wanted the information to test whether or not the government’s claims about plain packaging of cigarettes has any merit. The public took the view the tobacco company wanted to be able to make a case against this type of packaging, so that they could continue to maximise their profitability.
However, not everyone thinks this new type of request should be blocked by social conscience. In this piece, the author suggests that legitimate FOI requests should not be blocked, even if we don’t like them, and even if they appear to be made with the intention of being used for nefarious purposes, or to embarrass the government.
FOI requests by their nature are open and transparent and whilst exceptions do exist as to what cannot be made public – as many who have tried to extract sensitive government data and failed, will know – this piece suggests that less transparency in the form of request blocking would simply drive big business underground and make it more secretive still.
Our question to you then, is just this: should we be looking at extending the restrictions for FOI requests, or does the answer lie elsewhere, in our laws and policy on smoking and child welfare generally, or is everything just fine as it is?