Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Censorship, Freedom of Information, the Foreign Office and Uzbekistan

Craig Murray - Murder in SamarkandRight, Craig Murray's Book is out. To support the assertions he makes in it, he published all the documents on his website. Most of these documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, they're also covered by Crown Copyright. That means that you can only republish extracts. He's been threatened with legal action, which will need the price of a London house to defend in court. So he's taken them down. They're mirrored elsewhere already (links below), but those mirrors will also be forced down, as copyright is covered by the Berne conventions. So, there are ways of getting around it. One is a lot of people publishing separate extracts (we'll work on that), the other? Chris Lightfoot:
If one person can get hold of documents under the Freedom of Information Act, then so can anybody else, simply by making a request to the relevant public authority. Rather than trying to face down the FCO and its lawyers, a better response would be to draft a fill-in-the-blanks Freedom of Information Request, which anybody could email in to the FCO to get their own copy of the key documents perfectly legally. That's certainly less convenient than simply downloading them off the web -- in particular, most government departments make sure they send responses no earlier than the maximum twenty working days permitted under the Act -- but there's a limit to what the government can do to wriggle out of its obligations. If Craig can provide information identifying each document to be used in such a request, I'll happily build him a website which will allow anybody to send in such a request at the click of a button.
As Chris is one of the MySociety people, and I've yet to see a site of his that didn't impress, this is a damn fine offer.

Assuming it does happen, links to it will of course follow. As will links to the extracts. Now, go buy the book already (seriously, I'm skint, and I've no time to go into the library for at least another two weeks).

Mirror sites known as of 22.24BST 20060712:
If you haven’t seen the documents, they’re available here, here, here, here, here, here, and as a bittorrent here.


Anonymous said...

Is one potential solution finding a load of bloggers who each publish their own part extracts, with links detailing how to get to the rest of the documents? 

Posted by Ken

Anonymous said...

As soon as I heard about this I thought we should just get loads of people making FOI requests.
In fact, a form should have been put in the book so purchasers can get the supporting documents which couldn't be published.

Also, if extracts can be published then it should be possible for people to request the documents and then publish extracts in a coordinated manner. 

Posted by Tristan

Anonymous said...

Ken; that's part of the plan, yes, we're waiting from further word from Craig.

Tristan, you're right, but hindsite is 20/20, I suspect from now on this sort of book would include such a form, but we're also hoping the Crown Copyright thing can be sorted out.

If we show them that, essentially, they can't stop us getting it out, then they may change the rules.

I'm guessing most of blogland will be in on publishing their own 250 word extract, I know I am. On each of my blogs if need be. 

Posted by MatGB