FOI and UFOs: Proof the system can work?

The National Archives last week released the UFO reports it holds. Not surprisingly, it made headlines in a lot of places.

Included in the newly-released documents are the FOI requests made by ‘persistent requesters’.

Interestingly, the National Archives press release states that it was thanks to these persistent requesters that the Ministry of Defence opened the files in the first place.

These newly-released files also detail in full the Freedom of Information requests and letters from “persistent enquirers” that led to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) opening the UFO files for the first time in history.

The press release also quotes one of those requesters:

Dr David Clarke, author of the book ‘The UFO files’ and Senior Lecturer in Journalism from Sheffield Hallam University, said: ‘Before the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, we had to wait 30 years or more before we could see files on UFOs. Following its introduction, questions on UFOs ranked in the top three most popular FOI requests received by the Ministry of Defence. I was one of the MoD’s most ‘persistent correspondents’ and eventually persuaded MoD and other government departments to release their information on this perplexing and controversial subject.

You can see from the files that I wasn’t the only one interested in the subject, with the phenomenon discussed at the highest level of government right across the globe.’

This strikes me as a case which demonstrates of how the existence of FOI is making a difference. The MoD has seen the demand and interest in UFOs and simply made a huge part of its archive available, rather than digging out information for every inquiry.

This is exactly how bodies should respond to FOI. The question authorities should ask when receiving FOIs should be: How do we make sure people don’t have to to request this information in future?

That appears to be what the MoD has done here. Perhaps other bodies feeling the effects of spending cuts could also look at this as a way of reducing the impact of FOI requests.





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