U.K. government's reports into ID scheme must be disclosed

Published 20 February 2009

U.K. Information Tribunal has ruled that requests from the public for review of internal government reports into the cost-effectiveness and feasibility of the planned National ID Card scheme should be granted — but with names of people quoted in the reports deleted

U.K.’s Information Tribunal has ruled that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for internal government reports into the cost-effectiveness and feasibility of the planned National ID Card scheme should be granted. The reports in question, thought to be critical of the ID scheme, have thus far been withheld. In a decision issued yesterday, the Information Tribunal upheld a 2006 ruling by the Information Commissioner following FOIA requests that two “Gateway Reports” into National ID prepared by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) should be disclosed. The OGC had initially turned down the FOIA applications, and then following the Commissioner’s decision appealed to the Tribunal in 2007.

Lewis Page writes that the case then moved to the High Court, which eventually sent it back to the Information Tribunal for reconsideration. After much legal scuffling, the Tribunal has now ordered that the requested Gateway Report documents should be disclosed within twenty-eight days but with names of interviewees redacted.

According to the Tribunal judgment:

The role and function of the OGC… which is a highly important one in relation to modern day government projects, is ensuring that proper and efficient cost and other controls are imposed and maintained with regard to such projects…

The OGC contended that disclosure of the [Gateway Reviews] in relation to the ID Cards Program will harm the contribution of the Gateway process to remaining projects.

The OGC commissioners argued that if Gateway Reviews into government programs were always published, nobody would feel able to tell them things with the necessary “candor.” The Tribunal has answered this by allowing the names of people quoted to be withheld, and saying that the ruling does not establish a precedent that all such reviews should be published.

An OGC spokesman today sent the Reg this statement:

The Information Tribunal has concluded that neither they nor the Information Commissioner believe all Gateway Reviews should be disclosed. It has made clear that its decision refers only to this specific request and does not set any precedent. We are currently assessing the detail of the Information Tribunal’s decision and will respond in full in due course.