What do you do when a Freedom of Information request is turned down? You could appeal it (if the reason for refusal entitles you to an appeal), you could just take the rejection and move on – or you could publish the fact that someone, somewhere, is trying to keep something a secret.
Especially if the reasoning is more than a little bizarre. When all other routes fail, then maybe a little public ridicule is in order.
Take, for example, this story from the This Is Lincolnshire website:
POLICE have refused to reveal the number of registered sex offenders currently living in the Boston policing sector saying that to do so could lead to vigilante attacks.
Under the Freedom Of Information Act the Target requested the figure for Lincolnshire Police‘s Boston sector, which not only includes the 28,849 homes in Boston Borough, but also a number of villages in East Lindsey such as Sibsey and Frithville.
But, despite accepting that highlighting the issue would lead to better awareness among the public and therefore may encourage people to provide information about suspicious activity and to take steps to protect themselves, the force has rejected the request.
In its refusal letter, the force said revealing the figures could result in vigilante attacks, drive the offenders underground and “undermine the relationship” between the offenders and their managers.
Unless the number of sex offenders in the Boston area is incredibly high, surely it’s nigh on impossible for anyone to launch vigilante attacks based on knowing how many sex offenders live in the area.
And in those circumstances, surely it makes sense for the journalist involved to report on the information they have been refused access to. Hopefully, commonsense will prevail. Some see journalistic use of FOI as reporters just finding ‘easy leads.’ But if reporters and journalists are working on behalf of their readers, then surely it makes sense to tell readers when they can’t report information – especially when the reasoning is as flawed as it is in Lincolnshire.