The ICO exists to empower you through information.

28 September 2022

This is the fourth in a series of updates from Warren Seddon, Director of FOI and Transparency. His blog posts provide a regular update on our FOI work and share key learnings to help practitioners and the wider FOI community understand our developing thinking and carry out their roles. You can read Warren's last blog post here.

Every year on 28 September we join colleagues across the world to celebrate UNESCO’s International Day for Universal Access to Information. It is an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of the right to know, which is fundamental to the health of democracies and ensuring trust in the institutions that underpin them.

This year’s theme is artificial intelligence, e-Governance and access to information. As public bodies make increasing use of digital solutions to support online services and to help decision making, it is essential that the use of these methods do not result in a lack of transparency.

At the ICO, we are currently adapting the way we regulate the FOI Act so it is fit for the modern digital world. We recently published a report called Behind the Screens that highlights how the benefits of new technologies, including private messaging services, can be realised while ensuring public bodies remain accountable to the people they serve.

We have also recruited a new team that is focusing on enhancing the support we offer to help public authorities respond to FOI requests more efficiently. This action reflects the Commissioner’s commitment to public bodies in our new strategy ICO25.

Helping public authorities to be more open

To provide better support to public bodies, our new team needs to understand how public authorities are performing in line with their FOI statutory duties and what areas they specifically need our help with. To do that we will use the insight from our casework, engage with public organisations and civil society, and conduct research with FOI practitioners. In the meantime, we welcome any early feedback on our approach from the FOI community through our online survey.

Powered by our current insight, we already aim to improve and develop our toolkits, guidance, and training to help enhance public bodies’ performance and encourage greater publication of information proactively wherever possible. We will also be exploring how we can support greater transparency around environmental information in support of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) agenda, promoting digital approaches to proactive disclosure, and how more can be made of open data as part of the UK National Data Strategy.

We will produce more online FOI training and publish examples of good practice. We will also create a template ‘action plan’ for public bodies that are failing in delivering their statutory duties so they can improve their service.

For the public, we want to bring greater clarity about how they can make clear and targeted information requests that get them what they need, while making it easier for public authorities to respond to their requests.

Internationally, we are part of the International Conference of Information Commissioners, where we co-chair the work to both define and set out what constitutes good practice in the concept of Transparency by Design. Once this work is complete, we will explore how it can be used in our own work and to support public bodies to be more proactive themselves when designing new services.

As we reflect on the aims of the International Day for Universal Access to Information, it is our ambition to find new ways to encourage and support public authorities to be more transparent. Access to information is an empowering right, and we should be proud of the role we all play in supporting it.

Warren Seddon is ICO Director of Freedom of Information and Transparency responsible for the ICO’s freedom of information (FOI) policy and guidance. Warren also oversees the handling of people’s complaints to the ICO over public authorities’ responses to requests for information under the FOI Act and Environmental Information Regulations (EIR).