According new research by FIPA, based on statistics published by the Chief Information Officer of BC, the last decade has seen a dramatic increase in the number of general FOI requests returned with ‘no responsive records.’
In a complaint to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, FIPA points out that overall non-responsive rates jumped from effectively zero in the 2002-03 fiscal to approximately 23% in 2011-12.
What’s worse, these increases seem to be having their biggest effect on those likely to ask awkward or impertinent questions of the government. For example:
Non-responsive FOI requests from media organizations went from 0% (2002-03) to 34% (2011-12)
Non-responsive FOI requests from political parties went from 0% (2002-03) to 21% (2011-12)
Non-responsive FOI requests from interest groups went from 0.05% (2002-03) to 18% (2011-12)
In her 2010 report on timeliness of FOI responses, Information Commissioner Denham wondered if the improving speed of responses by government was because they were “…simply denying access or determining there were no responsive records to their requests.”
It appears that we may have the answer to her question.
On Friday morning, we received a message from the Ministry of Citizen Services and Open Government pointing to an omission of the category of “Records do Not Exist,” which was used as a way of coding non-responsive records between 2002 and 2006. The ministry had previously (Tuesday, September 11th) confirmed in writing both our original calculations and methodology, but this omission does affect the calculated totals presented in our original tables.
Having now revised our tables to reflect the comments of the Ministry, the representativeness of some of our examples is affected, but the substance of our complaint is unchanged. Overall non-responsive rates for all requester groups has still nearly doubled over the past decade; non-responsive rates for media have still increased by approximately 200%; and interest group non-responsive rates have still increased by approximately 50%.
Given these dramatic jumps in non-responsive records, we are still urging Commissioner Denham to proceed with an investigation into the issue. We have sent her a letter explaining the changes to our data, including revised tables. That letter is available in our library.