When the Irish government updated its Freedom of Information law, it promised something fit for the computer era. To say it did not deliver is rather an understatement.
The new bill (PDF) says: "the FOI body shall take reasonable steps to search for and extract the records to which the request relates, having due regard to the steps that would be considered reasonable if the records were held in paper format."
Get that? The standard for whether a FOI request is reasonable is whether it would be easy to get if the records were on paper and in a filing cabinet. If the records can be retrieved from a database with one click, but would take a hundred years with a filing cabinet, then the records can remain secret forever, because clicking once is deemed unreasonable.
As Simon McGarr puts it: "The Irish State wishes to uninvent computers.
The Explanatory Memo which the Government published to go with the Bill is more explicit about the government’s intent.
Bodies are required to take reasonable steps to search for and extract such data (analogous to the steps that would be considered reasonable if such a record was held in paper form)
When he was launching the Bill Minister Brendan Howlin had this to say:
“the current legislation was essentially designed to deal primarily with paper records and the legislative framework for FOI needs to be updated to reflect the transformation that has taken place in ICT since that time
Now we know he meant that special laws to allow the state to pretend that the ICT transformation never happened should be brought in. Civil servants are to be empowered to pretend that computers haven’t been invented and all their records are paper ones.