Information wants to be Free

I was pottering about on the internet today and stumbled across this site about Freedom of Information Act requests. It is a great resource and I found exactly what I was looking for. I also spotted a request that had been made to the Departement of Innovation, Universities and Skills about communication about OOXML. This was only mildly interesting, but it got me thinking. This request would have been better addressed to BSI itself rather than DIUS, but it wasn’t. The reason being that the BSI is not in scope of the Freedom of Information act, our national standards body is not considered a public authority and is not compelled to be open and transparent. This just doesn’t sound right to me, especially when I read the act itself and the schedules of bodies that are in scope. After an exchange of emails with the administrators of whatdotheyknow.com I decided that a question to my MP was in order, so off I went to http://www.writetothem.com and sent off this note.

Friday 23 January 2009

Dear Jeremy Hunt,

The British Standards Institution is a commercial company providing
documentation and professional services around standardisation. It also
acts under a Royal Charter to be the UK national standards body on
behalf of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills. It is
my belief that when acting on behalf of the UK as national standards
body it should be considered a public authority under the terms of the
Freedom of Information Act and listed in Schedule 1 Part VI of the act.
This would be similar to the situation of the BBC which is included “in
respect of information held for purposes other than those of
journalism, art or literature”.
Can you let me know if this omission can be corrected as openness and
transparency in the decision making processes of international
standardisation is of great importance to us all.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Bell

Now I await his response.

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8 Comments

  • Rob says:

    Hmmm… Another strategy would be to make the request of a covered public authority that was also involved in the process and presumably received relevant emails and other documents related to the subject. Maybe the British Library?

  • Alan Bell says:

    The British Library is a public authority, but nobody has sent them a FOIA request through the website yet http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/body/the_british_library I don’t think I am missing much information on how the whole sordid process went down, and I don’t really want to link the OOXML scandal to this issue. The issue that I am raising with my MP is simply that the BSI is outside the Freedom of Information Act. I am not seeking to make a Freedom of Information request at this time, although if this goes through and the BSI falls into scope of FOIA and it is retrospective then someone might like to request the minutes of the IST/41 meeting held on 17th March 2008 which might prove to be entertaining reading.

  • I have it well documented that the BSI is likely corrupt like many similar institutions that are controlled and run by private interests.

    BSI ought to be dismantled, if not merely reformed.

  • Alan Bell says:

    I think that our national standards body should in fact be a nationalised asset(like the banks), not an outsourced oddity. However getting anything to change means working with the system and finding things that are against the law, or things that are legal but obviously wrong, and not just a little bit wrong, but so obviously badly wrong that they can be explained to an MP who isn’t an expert in the field. I think this is one of them. If you could write to your MP that wouldn’t hurt, or kick off a general letter writing campaign to MPs on this issue. Someone down in John Denhams constituency would be handy too as BSI reports into his department.

  • They also outsource the spying on people’s calls and E-mail. :-S :-S :-S

  • [...] My response so far from Jeremy Hunt MP so this relates to a previous article where I wrote to my MP [...]

  • [...] letter to Jeremy Hunt MP, but this time a response too Not on the subject of the British Standards Organisation and the Freedom of Information Act, but clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill. Here is what I wrote: Dear Jeremy [...]

  • Adam says:

    As someone who works in an organisation that is subject to FoIA, the fact that BSI isn’t surprised me too, at first.

    Some preliminary comments: you do need to be a little careful with bundling everything as “BSI” as BSI Group and the National Standards Body are identifiably separate. Also, the committees (e.g. IST/41) are comprised of members from “nominating bodies”; the committees operate under BSI rules (see BS 0-1:2005) and generally under a BSI secretariat. BSI rules require that nominating bodies be representative of suppliers and consumers and standards work undertaken in the public interest. A committee != BSI

    The confidentiality clauses of BS 0-1:2005 could reasonably be construed as existing for the protection of committee members and it is worth noting that proceedings/documents can be made public by an explicit decision of the committee (NB not BSI).

    If you are interested in the business of a committee, I suggest two approaches:

    1. Apply to become a committee member. This might not be sucessful for a popular committee where membership might be limited to nominees of organisations that are representative of a group (e.g. a trade body, charitable lobby-group or a public sector body) in order to ensure that decision-making is manageable.

    2. Communicate with the chair of the committee asking for the committee authorise circulation (to you as an individual) or publication of specific proceedings/documents. (refer to section 5.9.1 of BS 0-1:2005).

    Please note, I am not 100% in defence of BSI policy on several points but on balance believe that a presumption of confidentiality is appropriate to protect committee members from inappropriate disclosures *by* BSI, remembering that the same policies apply to ALL areas of standardisation. The committees could do more to be open but that depends on the nature of the members and their nominating bodies. NB you should be able to find out which organisations are the nominating bodies from BSI (but not the individuals who are committee members). Lobby them for more committee openness.

    BTW BS 0-1:2005 is at http://www.bsi-global.com/upload/Standards%20&%20Publications/NSB/BS0-1.pdf
    Happy reading!

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