Today saw announcements on two areas of major interest to journalists. One, the report of the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, is good news. There were expectations that the commission was primed to weaken FoI; it hasn’t, and in fact it recommends ways to strengthen it, including speeding and shortening the appeals process.
The government’s response is also cheering, saying that charges for FoI will not be introduced, as “We believe that transparency can help save taxpayers’ money, by driving out waste and inefficiency”. Well, quite.
On the Investigatory Powers Bill, it’s too early to say. Some of the recommendations in the three parliamentary reports on the draft IP bill have been adopted, including better protection for journalists, but police have also gained further powers.
As I wrote in an analysis published by The Register this morning, this is not the end of the process. Parliament will make changes to this bill, and if it as it seems the Home Office has not spent enough time re-working it, those changes are likely to be substantial. It’s all still to play for, I reckon, not least because of the time-limit that actually benefits those campaigning against surveillance:
It’s important to remember that Parliament has to pass legislation of some kind by the end of this year. Should it fail, then the security services’ authority for some kinds of surveillance under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 lapses.
It will be surprising if the eventual Investigatory Powers Act does not sort out some of the flaws in its original draft. It will be even more surprising if it is rewritten to the extent that privacy campaigners are happy with it.