Twitter Tackles Open Government
By StaffJuly 5, 2013
In a stinging opinion piece yesterday on The Global Mail, Open Australia founders Matthew Landauer and Katherine Szuminska argued that the Department of Immigration was “unlawfully obstructing over 100 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from the general public in an attempt to maintain secrecy”.
They were referring to the department’s plans to refuse "100 valid requests" for detailed reports attached to some of the brief incident summaries featured on TGM’s latest data project, Behind The Wire, a visualisation of more than 7,600 incidents filed by staff at Australia’s network of privately run immigration detention centres.
Unsurprisingly the piece sparked a fierce debate on Twitter, into which weighed the Department of Immigration’s national communications manager and avid tweeter, Sandi Logan.
Logan objected to the idea that the department was acting unlawfully by not processing the FOIs, and reiterated the grounds for their refusal:
2/4 "...the agency or Minister may treat 2 or more requests as a single request if the agency or Minister is satisfied that:— Sandi Logan (@SandiHLogan) July 4, 2013
3/4 (a) the requests relate to the same document or documents; or ...— Sandi Logan (@SandiHLogan) July 4, 2013
4/4 (b) the requests relate to documents, the subject matter of which is substantially the same." Pretty clear, eh. http://t.co/gdoEgXsaU1— Sandi Logan (@SandiHLogan) July 4, 2013
His flurry of tweets, and particularly the suggestion that all the incidents featured on Behind The Wire are “substantially the same” in their subject matter, prompted a spirited discussion between Logan, Detention Logs’ Paul Farrell, TGM Editor Lauren Martin, and the Guardian Australia’s Oliver Laughland:
@ozlaurenmartin Act provides power to refuse FOI req because of diversion of resources, incl where subject matter is substantially the same— Sandi Logan (@SandiHLogan) July 4, 2013
Lawrence Bull, one of the Detention Logs reporters who sourced the detention incident data behind the FOI campaign, gave examples of two incidents that appear to be vastly different, but have been lumped together by DIAC as “substantially the same”:
Crikey journalist and former public servant Bernard Keane queried the claim that the Department of Immigration is acting unlawfully. Delay and obfuscation within the boundaries of the FOI act is “perfectly lawful”, he said. Former secretary of the Department of Defence Paul Barratt suggested the more accurate claim was that the department was acting unethically, against its code of conduct:
A more transparent approach was suggested by tweeter FOI Central, who cited the example of the Department of Defence’s Hot Issues Briefs page, where initial incident reports and advice to the Defence Minister are regularly published with personal details redacted:
Logan is yet to reply.