So, occassionally I browse and attempt to assist people on FYI.org.nz, a site allowing for publicisation of OIA requests.
Somewhat alarming to me is that on reading a few of these requests, government agencies are still declining requests due to information being publicly available. Back in the days when this meant you would need to make a physical copy of what was perhaps a very large report to provide the data, this legal option made sense.
Nowadays, most publicly available data will be electronically available. In which case, we shouldn’t be denying requests- rather, the agency ought to have a duty to provide a link if the information is still available, or release the information through normal channels if for some reason it’s no longer available. If collated the publicly available information requested would take unreasonable time, then the agency ought to use existing policy around fees or denial for that reason.
In this day and age, there is no reason to deny a request due to information being publicly available, when it’s so easy to point out where the information is. It would seem that if anyone wants a member’s bill, giving agencies under the OIA an obligation to provide either the location (virtual or real) of said information or a copy would be a great idea.
Granted, this may be a symptom of the culture around Official Information at the moment- there are plenty of other problems with OIA requests, with many agencies (especially certain DHBs) refusing to answer questions due to collation requirements that any sensible reporting regime would make very easy to answer, and not clarifying why collation is required. (Sometimes it legitimately is, but a reason why such as “we use paper files for this” or “our software doesn’t allow a centralised report and we would have to view thousands of individual files” are great responses. Simply giving the section of legislation it’s being declined under are unhelpful, especially if there is related information that could assist the requester that can be provided) It might be time to modernise the OIA in general and remove or restrict several of the exemptions. An OIA or private information request ought to be viewed in general as an opportunity to either assist or inform the public, not an inquisition.
There are some agencies that are providing good responses, even when they have to decline requests. I read one request that not only detailed why each individual answer couldn’t be given in detailed format due to collation requirements, but actually requested information regarding the general details of the policies that the requester was interested in to reassure them to issue was being considered seriously and policies were in place. That is a good example of how to decline an OIA request, and the type of culture government agencies need to be building.