Here at WhatDoTheyKnow, mySociety’s service which publishes Freedom of Information requests and responses online, we care a lot about how transparent public authorities are. That being so, it’s only right that we try to be transparent, too. Of course, we already strive to be as transparent as we can, but we’ve recently increased how much information we provide about requests that we’ve had to stop publishing.
It’s really rare that we stop publishing the entirety of a request, but since starting to produce annual transparency reports, we’ve noticed that in those exceptional cases, we weren’t always able to be clear about why we had to do it. Our records were kept in our support mail system, and couldn’t be published on WhatDoTheyKnow due to some technical limitations.
Since October 2022, if you visit a link to a request that has been removed, where the information exists, you’ll now see a brief message explaining why the request isn’t available. We were already doing something similar for instances where we’ve had to hide individual messages or attachments. While the information necessary to display these more detailed reasons isn’t always available, especially for older requests, we hope that this small improvement is yet another beneficial improvement to how we run the site.
Alaveteli, the software platform that powers WhatDoTheyKnow and many other Freedom of Information services globally, doesn’t just let us choose between something being visible or not;we can choose between several levels of visibility. These range from completely publicly visible, to visible only to those with a direct link, to visible only to the user who originally made the request, to visible only to the WhatDoTheyKnow administration team, which we only use in some of the most serious cases.
This feature allows us to minimise the potential negative impact of publication, while retaining as many of the benefits as possible, with varying levels depending on the results of our carefully considered, case-by-case assessments.