FOI ‘ID’ing’ will be costly

| 29/09/2010

(CNS): The information commissioner has pointed out that removing the right for the public to make freedom of information requests anonymously could be a difficult and costly exercise. Following comments by the premier on a number of occasions that he does not think that it is right for people to withhold their identity when applying for information, Jennifer Dilbert has said that trying to verify who people are would require even more work on the part of government information managers. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, which was Right to Know Day, Dilbert said while government had the ability to remove the right to anonymity it would not necessarily be in its interests to do so and would be both expensive and impractical.

“As I have said before, I don’t see how it can practically work,” said Dilbert. “It won’t be easy for information managers to verify the identity of an applicant. I imagine they will have to request a passport or a notarised application, which will just add to their workload and, of course, the costs. It is also very likely that those concerned about revealing their identity will simply ask other people to make their requests for them, so there is little point in attempting to remove the anonymous application.”
 
The information commissioner pointed out that the elected government has the power to change the law but, as elected officials, they must do what the electorate wants and she doubted that there would be support for the removal of anonymity. She explained that during the upcoming review of the law, while there were a number of changes the Information Commissioner’s Office was recommending to speed up the process, it would be down to the Legislative Assembly to decide what changes, if any, would be made.
 
Jan Liebaers, the deputy information commissioner, questioned why the identity of a requester was relevant, except where an individual is asking for their own personal files, because general public information belongs to everyone. “Why would you want to know, what could possibly be the reason?” he asked rhetorically, adding that there was certainly no good reason why a government official would need to know an applicant’s identity.
 
The deputy commissioner said he believed that there had been some association with some people in government departments confusing vexatious requests with anonymous requests. However, Liebaers pointed out that they were different and that the law dealt very clearly with vexatious applications.
 
“It is inappropriate to associate anonymity with vexation,” he said. “These are two very different things and it is clear what is vexatious and we have seen very, very little of it.”
 
Liebaers said that for a wide number of reasons the ability to request information anonymously was important and it underscored the fact that the information was for everyone and anyone and not just the person making the request.
 
The country’s premier has made a number of public criticisms of the Freedom of Information Law and in McKeeva Bush’s latest interview with Cayman 27 he said the “wrong information should not be allowed to get into the wrong hands” and accused the “haters" of using information against people. At both press briefings and from inside the Legislative Assembly Bush has also criticised CNS and other media  for making requests, as well as members of the public who have used pseudonyms.
 
However, the information commissioner said that despite the rhetoric and the comments by the premier, no one was interfering with her work and the law was providing access. “I am under no pressure. My office remains independent and I do not feel fettered in anyway,” Dilbert added. “Whatever is being said, the law’s working as the information is getting out there.”
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Comments (14)

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  1. bradley says:

    Question:  Is FOI all about diverting government resources from improving the Caymanian economy???

    I am hearing this question repeated now and again, seeing FOI is an independant entity separate from the government. Can someone shed some light on this claim? 

  2. Beachboi says:

    When I was going through the FOI training I raised the question about people from other countries using the FOI law to gain information.  I was told that anyone from any country in the world could ask for inforation.  I didn’t agree but I didnt have anything to do with writing the law.  If Mac wants otherwise anonymous queries then it is all to obvioius that he wants to know who is asking for the information.  Retribution would surely follow.

    I wonder is anyone has ever applied for an FOI request to see how many millions of dollars it cost to train all the information managers and also how much it cost to run the FOI officer per year.  Surely we could have had an office where these requests were handled without having to create a whole new governmental "black hole" that will suck up millions of dollars.  I would be willing to bet that the salary for this office is $50,000 per month.

    What a mess!!!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Who in the XXXX does Big Mac think he is that he now thinks he’s God that he decides whether we should be allowed the information or not?

    Pride comes before a fall and a HAUGHTY SPIRIT BEFORE DESTRUCTION

    Its time for this man to humble himself before God then the people.

    I am sick to my stomach. I can’t wait for 2013. I hope he blows it before then and do something to let them all throw him out of there.

  4. Anonymous says:

    govt want to know who you are so they can come after you at the earliest opportunity, scare tactics as per normal

  5. Anonymous says:

    FOI requests must remain anonymous.

    There is a perception that if a person publicly embarrasses the government or a thin-skinned politician, there will be repercussions.

  6. Lachlan MacTavish says:

     Kissfoot…..this is an extremely important issue. The people pay huge amounts of money to the CIG and elected members. Information belongs to the people that pay for it. All residents should be able to have information and CIG issues revealed and explained to them. And people making inquiries should be protected from retribution and retaliation which has been rampant in our small society. Kudo’s to Ms. Dilbert and the FOI office.

  7. noname says:

    Could Mrs Dilbert not find a Caymanian in this day and age to be her deputy? No disrespect to Mr Liebaers who is a very nice, hardworking and competent person, as was his predecessor, also an expat. But these are difficult times and competent qualified (or trainable) Caymanians need to get a look-in.

    • Scottish,Irish,Jamacian born CAYMANIAN says:

      i agree with you 11:08…….. why not a Caymanian Mrs. Dilbert????

      without a doubt there are QUALIFIED CAYMANIANS that can do your job what you think your deputy’s job…….

      why not two Caymanians with the same mind set getting the job done?…..

      why dont your office set the example and show the nay sayers that CAYMANIANS can do and will do when given the chance to do……..

      c yah now lo’k wha ya gawn mek me say!…….

       

       

    • Anonymous says:

      Sure there are Caymanians that could fill the position but if you want the best you look to the rest of the world…

  8. Mickey Mouse request to Premier:  How many steps have you taken from home to the Court House.

    FOI:  Please Sir answer by 1 o’clock or else we have CNS and news outlets broadcast your incompetence! 

    • Anonymous says:

      kissmebackfoot,

      If government were actually keeping a RECORD of how many steps the Premier takes it WOULD be a huge diversion of resources.

      Mickey – you could certainly come up with something better than that!