2009/2/24 Gordon Joly <gordon.joly(a)pobox.com>om>:
"An individual wanted to learn details of the Chiefs of Defence
Staff. He went to the authoritative source and sent a freedom of
information request to the MOD. This week, the MOD responded by
suggesting that Wikipedia is the most authoritative source of
information on its staff..."
That's a bit of a misinterpretation of their response, I think.
The FOI laws have exceptions (mainly s. 21 of the 2000 Act) that say
if something is already widely published, or is going to be, you can't
request it under FOI. Usually they'll send you a copy of the material
*anyway*, but it's to prevent people being silly about, eg, demanding
copies of commercially sold documents. In this case, something as
basic as a list of Chiefs of the Defence Staff, with ranks and dates,
is indeed easily available.
All they say is "an accurate list is available" - I read this as a
polite hint to someone who's sent two dozen requests for easily
sourced queries, not as saying "well, we ourselves don't know, but I
guess some guy on the Internet might".
(The idea behind FOI is to get access to government documents which
are otherwise unobtainable, not to have a civil servant do your
research on request for you.)
- Andrew Gray