The UK government must publish ‘gateway reviews’ on the progress of its ID card plan, the Information Tribunal has ruled.
The tribunal is the agency that hears and rules on appeals against decisions made by the Information Commissioner's Office, the data protection watchdog. Its ruling will allow greater public scrutiny as the ID card project develops.
The tribunal upheld information commissioner Richard Thomas' decision ordering the Office of Government Commerce, which carries out gateway reviews on major public sector projects, to disclose its reviews of the ID programme and its ‘traffic light status’ at the gateway review 1 stage, in line with requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
Richard Thomas said: "The Information Tribunal has confirmed my view that the public interest in disclosing the gateway review information on identity cards was stronger than any public interest in it remaining secret. Disclosure is likely to enhance public debate of issues such as the program's feasibility and how it is managed."
He added: "I am also pleased that the Information Tribunal gave a clear and specific signal that it cannot be assumed that information contained in gateway reviews falls outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act."
The OGC had refused to disclose the gateway review information, citing two exemptions in the act covering audit functions and the formulation and development of government policy. It argued that disclosure would fundamentally undermine the gateway review process because those involved would not be as frank in expressing their views and commercial organisations might not wish to be involved.
But Thomas made his original ruling on the basis that disclosure would not discourage future cooperation by those providing information to the OGC. Thomas also found that the public interest arguments for disclosing the information were more persuasive than those put forward for keeping the information secret.
The tribunal felt that the OGC's call for a ‘safe space’ to protect information in the early stages of policy formulation could not be justified, because at the time of the requests for information the ID cards bill was being debated in parliament.
The OGC's claim that disclosure - or even the possibility of disclosure - would have "grave consequences" was overstated, the tribunal ruled.
The tribunal ordered the OGC to disclose the disputed information once a secondary issue about identifying individuals involved in the reviews has been resolved.