ICO: Public authorities seek Web help

A gentle but firm push from the Information Commissioner’s Office has a number of government entities on their way to entering the Internet Age.  

Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert’s office found in a review released last month that government entities weren’t using the World Wide Web to its full potential in allowing people access to public information and in educating residents about Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law.  

Following the release of that review, Mrs. Dilbert said her office has received a number of questions about how government entities can improve their online presence.  

“It is encouraging to know that the [information commissioner’s] report is being reviewed by authorities and that they are genuinely interested in publishing more FOI information on line,” Mrs. Dilbert said.  

Mrs. Dilbert said websites are good tools for government entities to proactively provide open records, sparing the public from having to make FOI requests.  

“A good website … will pre-empt formal requests for information, but more importantly it will help to make the authority more accountable to the public who, in effect, pays for [government’s] existence,” Deputy Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers wrote in the evaluation of government websites.  

The report looked at which government entities had created FOI-related Web pages in the two-and-a-half years following the implementation of the country’s first Freedom of Information Law. The investigation done by the information commissioner’s office rated the websites of the 90 public authorities in Cayman, including those operated by statutory authorities and government-owned companies.  

There is no legal requirement for entities to create a website for anything. However, a template for government FOI websites was set up in 2008, prior to the law coming into effect.  

In the review, each public authority was graded on a scale of one to five, with one being the best grade and five, the worst. Offices were evaluated on a number of issues, including whether FOI-related items and websites were readily available on the government’s main Web page, how often the information there is updated, whether there was a “disclosure log” for open records requests, and what guidance the site has for people who want to use the FOI Law.  

Seven out of 10 public authorities in the Cayman Islands government received the equivalent grade of “D” or “F” on the review, Mr. Liebaers said.  

“The vast majority of public authorities (71 per cent) have not made any additions or changes to the initial Web page template produced by the Computer Services Department in 2008,” the report found.  

In some cases, particularly with smaller departments that depend on computer services to update their Web pages, requests to update FOI information were given “low priority”.  

There were many examples of positive work with government information websites, the FOI office noted. The Cabinet Office, the complaints commissioner, the 911 centre, the Education Ministry, the Governor’s Office, Lands and Survey, the Port Authority and the Water Authority were among those. These entities all received a “one” or top rating from the Information Commissioner.  

Dozens of entities whose websites received a four or five in the information commissioner’s ratings – meaning their websites either hadn’t been updated since computer services created the website templates for FOI-related issues in late 2008 – or they simply didn’t have information about open records on their websites at all.  

“This investigation confirms that vast improvements are required to the majority of government websites in order to make them meaningful tools for communication between government and the general public on FOI,” Mr. Liebaers said. 

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Mrs. Dilbert
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