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Information Commissioner Decision Notice re OGC Stage Zero Gateway Reviews of the Identity Cards Programme - ruling in favour of full disclosure

Finally, after over a year and four months, the Information Commissioner has issued a Decison Notice regarding our complaint about the Office for Government Commerce's refusal to publish the Stage Zero Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme.

Basically, the Information Commissioner has ruled in our favour, and has dismissed the OGC's public interest exemption claims under "Section 33 - audit functions" and "Section 35 - formulation and development of government policy."

The OGC have 28 days to lodge an appeal with the Information Tribunal, or else they must, by law, disclose the requested information within 35 calendar days.

Read the full text: Information Commissioner Decision Notice re OGC Stage Zero Gateway Reviews of the Identity Cards Programme (11 pages)

Apart from shedding some light on the controversial Idenity Cards Programme, which the Information Commissioner deems to be of such national impact on the general public, that more transparency and open government is required, this ruling is also notable for the way in which the OGC's excuse for secrecy, namely that publication might reduce the frank and open discussions which a Gateway Review collates and analyses anonymously. The Information Commissioner basically cited the Civil Service Code back att the OGC - it is the duty of Civil Servants to be frank, open and honest with their best and most professional opinions and advice, at all times, and publication of Gateway Reviews should make no difference to this.

This is highly significant, as even Select Committees of the House of Commons, such as the Public Accounts Committee or the home Affairs Committee have not been given access to OGC Gateway Reviews, even in private.

The OGC even tried to prevent the Information Commissioner from sending him a hardcopy of the Gateway Reviews, but eventually had to relent.

5.4 Nature of the Project being reviewed

The subject of these Reports, i.e. identity cards, will have a significant impact on the lives of individuals and their relationship with the state. The Commissioner considers that this in itself presents a very strong argument in favour of disclosure. The public should therefore be kept informed as far as possible as to how the programme is progressing and what the impact on them of identity cards will be. Disclosure is likely to enhance public debate of issues such as the programme's feasibility and how it is being managed. It will also allow the identification of project risks and practical concerns. It could also go some way towards educating the public by allowing it to develop a better understanding of the issues surrounding the development of identity cards. In the Commissioner's view the nature of the identity card project and its implication for citizens is in itself a highly significant factor in deciding in favour of disclosure.

The Commissioner is mindful of the OGC's view that because the programme is of such great public importance, there is a strong public interest in the programme being successful. The OGC argues that it is therefore essential that the integrity of the Gateway Process is maintained and not damaged in any way. The Commissioner has taken this into account but still considers that allowing the public an opportunity to better understand the development of the ID card programme outweighs the public interest arguments put forward by the OGC. In any event, the Commissioner is not persuaded that that disclosure of the requested information will damage the Gateway process in the way the OGC has suggested it will.

5.5 Content of the Reports and the impact on candour of Interviewees

The Commissioner is mindful of the OGC's view that the release of the report would make future prospective interviewees and interviewers less willing to participate in the Gateway process. However, in this case he is not persuaded by this argument.

In the Commissioner's opinion the Reports do not contain any information which would cause participants to be less willing to contribute openly and fully in future Gateway Reviews. The Commissioner has noted that during his discussions with the OGC it accepted these Reports were prepared at a very early stage in the life of a project. Because these Gate Zero Reviews were carried out at an early stage, it concentrates more on the practical issues of ensuring the right personnel and management structure is in place. It is difficult to envisage how disclosure of information of this sort could lead to contributors being less candid with their views. The Commissioner is satisfied that the Reports consist of material one would expect to see in relation to the early stages of any major governmental programme.

Gateway reports do not attribute comments to any particular person, although the Commissioner recognises that in some cases the nature of the information is such that it may be possible to attribute content to a particular individual. However, even if it is possible to do this, the Commissioner is still not convinced that disclosure of the requested information would, or would be likely to, lead to contributors being less candid in future reports. Should there be evidence of this, the organisations involved must take the necessary measures to ensure that their staff continue to deliver the quality of advice that they are expected to provide as part of their official duties.

We await any appeal to the Information Tribunal with interest.

UPDATE: 30th August 2006

The Information Tribunal say that the OGC have lodged an appeal within the 28 days.

Keep an eye on their (not yet updated) webpage of pending appeals for more details.


The Information Commissioner has also published another Decision Notice on this topic, as a result of what was originally a Parliamentary Question by the former Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten MP.

Case Ref: FS50083104 Date: 31/07/06 Public Authority: HM Treasury Summary: The complainant made a request to know the traffic light status awarded to Gateway Reviews of the Identity cards programme which had been carried out by the Office of Government Commerce, an independent office of the Treasury. The information was refused on the grounds that it related to the formulation and development of government policy (section 35) and that disclosure would prejudice the exercise of the OGC's audit functions (section 33). The Commissioner's decision is that the public interest lies in the release of the information and that its release will not prejudice the exercise of the OGC's audit functions. Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI s.33 - Complaint Upheld; s.35 - Complaint Upheld. Full Transcript of Decision Notice FS50083104

i.e. exactly the same dismissal of the Treasury's arguments for secrecy as in our Decision Notice.

nice work. fingers crossed!

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