Sunday, January 24, 2010

Foreign Office Withholds
Gay Uganda Files

I have filed an appeal with the Foreign Office, seeking both more information on the records found responsive to my request and release of the records, potentially with select parts redacted. One simple fact that should be provided is the number of pages located, assuming records found were in paper format.

The letter below was received on Friday and has piqued my curiosity about what the UK diplomats are doing about the gay Ugandan crisis and what is being said to government leaders in Kampala:

Thank you for your request for information which we received on 23 December 2009, requesting information relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons in Uganda dated between January 1 2009 and the date of your request.

I can confirm that the FCO holds information that is relevant to your request. However, the FCO has decided not to disclose the information you requested. The information you requested is being withheld as it falls under the exemptions under section 35 (1) (a) (formulation of government policy) and sections 40 (2) and 40 (3) (requests for the personal data of a third party) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Some of the information you requested has been withheld under exemption 35(1) (a) (formulation of government policy) as it formed part of briefing on recent policy on a sensitive issue. The FCO considers that there is a general public interest in greater transparency in the decision-making process in order to ensure government is accountable to the public. However, with regards to section 35 (1) (a), for the effective formulation of government policy, the Government requires a clear space, immune from public view in which it can debate matters internally free from the pressures of public political debate. This information is withheld due to the need for officials to be able to conduct rigorous and candid risk assessment of their policies and programmes including their pros and cons without there being premature disclosure which could close off alternative options. This would have a negative impact on the quality of decision making, which is clearly not in the public interest. We have judged that in this case, the public interest in maintaining this exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

We are also withholding the information you have requested under Section 40 (Personal Information) as the information is personal data relating to third parties, the disclosure of which would contravene one of the data protection principles. In such circumstances sections 40(2) and (3) of the Freedom of Information Act apply. In this case, our view is that disclosure would breach the first data protection principle. This states that personal data should be processed fairly and lawfully. It is the fairness aspect of this principle which, in our view, would be breached by disclosure. In such circumstances s.40 confers an absolute exemption on disclosure. There is, therefore, no public interest test to apply.

If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision, you should write to me. You have 40 working days to do so from the date of our response. [...]

Please contact me if you have any queries about this letter.

Lewis Clark
Africa Directorate
(East Africa and Great Lakes)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
London, UK

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