news news Delimiter has published a free file-serving mirror of PDF documents published under Freedom of Information laws by the Attorney-General’s Department and relevant to the technology sector, in the wake of confirmation by the department that it has removed such documents from its website.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, all government departments and agencies covered by the legislation must provide a way for the public to access documents which any party has requested under the legislation. This means that if individuals make FoI requests of government organisations, that that information will eventually reach the public domain and be accessible to all.
Almost all Federal Government organisations — including some government business enterprises such as NBN Co — interpret the act to mean that they must publish documents released under the FoI act in a disclosure log on their website. The Attorney-General’s Department, which contains FoI oversight as part of its portfolio, has historically done this.
However, the department recently removed PDF documents relating to FoI requests from its website, forcing those seeking access to the documents to email or otherwise communicate with it directly. This has substantially reduced access to a number of sensitive documents.
The issue of FoI with respect to the Attorney-General’s Department is particularly pertinent for technologists because the issues the department is working on — with respect to copyright reform, Internet piracy, data retention and telecommunications surveillance — are key issues of interest for Australia’s technology sector. The department often publishes important FoI documents relating to these issues.
Because of these reasons, Delimiter has today published a mirror of PDF documents published by the Department under Freedom of Information laws. The mirror is live today and you can view it here.
The mirror will not seek to replicate all of the documents which the Department releases under FoI laws, but will publish those documents which are relevant in some way to the Australian technology industry and technical readers.
Initially, the mirror has published almost all documents of this nature which the Department has released in 2013, although we are still seeking copies of some documents from the Department. This year the Department has published important FoI documents relating to issues such as the classification of video games, surveillance programs such as PRISM, data retention and surveillance, hacking and Internet security and copyright reform associated with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
Already, the mirror hosts documents not available via the Department’s website, in the areas of data retention and the PRISM program operated by the US National Security Agency.
Delimiter believes the publication of these documents is important due to the aims of the FoI legislation. The site of the Australian Information Commissioner states with regard to why FoI legislation is important:
“The Australian Parliament first considered introducing freedom of information (FOI) legislation in the 1970s. In 1979, a Senate committee report outlined three reasons why FOI is important: FOI allows individuals to see what information government holds about them, and to seek correction of that information if they consider it wrong or misleading. FOI enhances the transparency of policy making, administrative decision making and government service delivery. A community that is better informed can participate more effectively in the nation’s democratic processes.”
“These reasons are still valid today. More recently, a fourth reason for FOI has emerged — there is greater recognition that information gathered by government at public expense is a national resource and should be available more widely to the public. This idea was explicitly recognised through the reforms to the FOI Act in 2010 and the creation of the information policy function of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).”
As a website published by a private corporation, Delimiter is not subject to the accessibility guidelines which the Attorney-General’s Department has cited as a reason for not publishing these documents itself.
Delimiter is currently also investigating publishing a register of documents related to the National Broadband Network.