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Investigate Cabinet Office unit that obstructs FOIA requests!

THE NUJ and other press freedom organisations have separately written to The House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, calling for an investigation into the Cabinet Office's secretive Clearing House. This unit appears to play a role in delaying, obstructing and even blacklisting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, especially those made by journalists.

This follows a recent ruling in favour of openDemocracy at the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber), in which Judge Chris Rules ruled that the Cabinet Office had been "misleading" about how its operation was run, with a "profound lack of transparency" about the Clearing House going all the way up to ministerial level.

Days after the Information Tribunal judgement, the Politico website received a batch of internal Department for International Trade (DIT) emails sent "in error". These showed that a FOIA request sent to the DIT had been marked "high risk" and that responses had been coordinated with the Clearing House, based on the identity of the person making the request.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, responses to requests have to be "requester neutral" (also known as "applicant-blind"). This means that decisions on how to respond to them should not be influenced by who is asking for the data, whether they are a journalist or not, or which news outlet they are with. Under the Act, citizens or residents of the UK are entitled to information held by public bodies regardless of who they are.

Angela Rayner, Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne and Shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, joined calls for the Committee to investigate the Clearing House. The NUJ is also asking members who have in the past made FOIA requests to UK central government departments to make Subject Access Requests under the Data Protection Act, asking for any personal data generated about them as a requester and their FOIA request. Details are here.